Menu Innovations | October 2013 | By Lori Zanteson

Morning Comforts

Baked goods are taking breakfast menus to the next level.

Baked goods like cinnamon rolls give fast food restaurants a breakfast staple.
Quick-serve concepts are innovating their breakfast goods as the morning daypart becomes more competitive. thinkstockphotos.com
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Baked goods have been a staple in the quick-serve industry for decades, but innovation in the space has boomed as several operators step up their a.m. offerings to compete in that increasingly lucrative daypart.

Coffee concepts are a natural fit for baked goods. In addition to a morning cup of java, many customers anticipate a variety of baked breakfast items behind the bakery glass case, from syrupy sweet cinnamon rolls to savory crusted quiche.

Displayed inside the case and ready to serve, breakfast items can appeal to customers even beyond the morning hours, says Starbucks spokeswoman Holly Hart Shafer, who adds that breakfast items are popular during the lunch hour at the coffee giant.

Starbucks stocks its bakery case throughout the day, and its Blueberry Oat Bar—blueberries layered on an oat crust with a streusel topping—and Cinnamon Chip Scone are routinely snatched up past noon. The same is true for Starbucks’ grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches, which include the Bacon & Gouda Artisan Breakfast Sandwich on an artisan roll, and the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon & White Cheddar Classic Breakfast Sandwich, served on a multigrain English muffin.

“Two-thirds of our customers are not attaching food to their orders, [but] we don’t want them going elsewhere to get it,” Shafer says.

In an attempt to catapult its food offerings to the next level, Starbucks acquired La Boulange, a 21-unit, San Francisco–based bakery chain, last year. The French-style bakery will eventually oversee all of the food at Starbucks.

“We know our customers want a better food experience, and that’s what we’re focusing on,” Shafer says. “We believe La Boulange will get us to a place with food our customers expect from us.”

La Boulange products have rolled out to two markets—San Francisco and Seattle—and will be released more widely in the coming year. The new products have been met with tremendous success, Shafer says. “These products are different. It’s exciting to see the amazing assortment of bakery items,” she says.

Customers can still expect to see their Starbucks favorites, such as the Lemon Loaf Cake, but reimagined by La Boulange, Shafer says. In addition, “you’ll see many different products, like the savory croissants, all of which are a new platform for us. People are eating them for breakfast and lunch.”

The croissant products are all about 300 calories or less. They include the Tomato & Cheese Croissant made with Swiss cheese and herbs in a flaky croissant, and the Wheat Spinach Croissant, a wheat pastry with spinach, shallots, and béchamel sauce.

At Caribou Coffee, every food choice goes back to its beverages. “We always have to complement the already-strong beverage experience,” says Alfredo Martel, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Caribou. “The objective is to produce a high-quality food experience that’s also diverse. By choosing a ciabatta or a country biscuit, we’re going for variety that’s familiar, but with a twist.”

A sausage sandwich, for example, is something customers expect to see on a breakfast menu. But at Caribou, “we try to elevate the sausage sandwich,” Martel says. “The brioche adds to the character of the familiar, and the chicken apple sausage creates a different flavor note.”

In addition to the Chicken Apple Sausage sandwich, Caribou’s sausage sandwiches include the Sausage Biscuit with egg and cheese on a buttermilk biscuit.

Caribou also launched a new line of quiche this summer as an option that could be vegetarian and serve both breakfast and afternoon dayparts. Keeping with the goal of enhancing the familiar with something new, the Spinach & Cheese Quiche and the Ham & Cheddar Quiche have flavors people know and love, but in a form that’s new, Martel says.

At less than 300 calories per serving, the quiche can be paired with coffee or an espresso beverage during breakfast, or with tea or one of Caribou’s new sparkling beverages during the afternoon. “It’s a lighter experience. It fulfills a mid-afternoon treat,” Martel says.

When it comes to baked goods, he says, there are certain industry standards brands have to have, such as the iconic blueberry muffin. Caribou steps that up by using real berries and no preservatives. The company also introduced a new Monkey Bread product this year, which has already become a top seller. Essentially a pull-apart cinnamon roll, “it’s a familiar flavor note that has been successful. We’ve made it our own by executing it with something distinctive,” Martel says.

Stan Frankenthaler, executive chef at Dunkin’ Donuts, says the company decided to add new baked goods to diversify its doughnut-centric menu. Bakery items are “heartwarming, nostalgic, and comforting,” Frankenthaler says, “and they go great with coffee, hot tea, iced coffee, and frozen beverages.”

Dunkin’ Donuts’ bakery heritage drives the variety and freshness of its selections, he says. “We’re giving tons of choice. Customers like to see new things.”

By offering several different baked carriers, such as croissants, Texas toast, and even doughnuts, Frankenthaler says, the brand is always trying different combinations for sandwich products.

One of the newest is the Egg White Flatbread sandwich. “[The bread is] about the virtuousness of ingredients—flax and whole-grain mix—which adds a coarseness and texture to the egg white,” he says. “It has big flavor, lots of good-for-you ingredients, portability, and it’s under 300 calories. It meets a lot of consumer needs, and there’s been a positive response across all demographics.”

The La Brea Bakery Café in California’s Downtown Disney district combines traditional baked offerings with new options. A rotating menu means different items are offered on different days, providing customers with variety. But what sets La Brea Bakery apart is its artisanal approach, which originated with founder Nancy Silverton many years ago, says Jon Davis, senior vice president of culinary research and innovation for La Brea parent ARYZTA.

“We use recognizable ingredients,” he says, adding that traditional techniques, such as hand lamination, produce higher-quality results.

The Dried Fruit & Nut Scone, which La Brea Bakery has been making for 20 years, is the brand’s No. 1 seller, Davis says. Another popular choice is a traditional coffee cake called the Summer Camp Coffee Cake.