Today’s fast-casual industry is at the leading edge of breakfast innovation. But while some fast casuals only recently started exploring breakfast’s potential, Arizona-based bakery-café Wildflower Bread Company has been turning out creative breakfast dishes for more than 20 years.

Wildflower features a range of breakfast options, from the savory (egg sandwiches and frittatas) to the sweet (French toast, pancakes, and baked goods). The company is frequently innovating across the menu, and recently developed a new line of Breakfast Bowls, which includes a Protein Bowl and a Sweet Potato & Greens Bowl.

CEO Louis Basile explains how Wildflower keeps on top of breakfast innovation, and how his R&D team of Brendon Franko and Lacey Hudgins help him seek inspiration from around the restaurant industry.

How important is breakfast to Wildflower?

It’s essential. The fastest growing part of the business today, segment-wide, is breakfast. It’s been growing for the last five years. Whether you’re a student, an athlete, a business person, or a homemaker, all those folks need to start off the day with a well-balanced breakfast. And what better way to do that than eating out at a great restaurant, where you can do it by yourself or with your family or with friends?

How do you keep up with customers’ breakfast demands?

That’s the million-dollar question. Consumer eating habits are changing. We’re not prepared yet to go all in on breakfast all day. We do that on the weekends—not all day, but until 2 o’clock on the weekends. There is a nice mix of customers who eat breakfast past regular serving time, but we don’t really see on the weekdays that there’s such a high demand after the 11 o’clock hour.

What does your breakfast innovation process look like?

It’s a collaborative effort. We collectively are incredibly aware of what’s happening. You become aware by eating out a lot, reading a lot, following trends. Our ideas generally come from something that we’ve seen—sometimes exactly like we’ve seen it, but more often than not, not exactly like we’ve seen. Then we have a conversation; hopefully we’ve all tried it, and we definitely have great pictures of it. Then we say, OK, how does that fit within the Wildflower system? You’ve got to be able to execute it. It can taste phenomenal in the test kitchen, but if we don’t believe we can bring that to fruition at the store level, we’re not interested in serving it.

What do customers want for breakfast?

There are two groups. You’ve got your traditionalists that, no matter what we put on the menuboard, they’re going to order the same thing they’ve been ordering for the last 20 years. Then you’ve got your adventurers. Somewhere in between that, we like to call it conversational selling. Some people can be convinced if somebody is willing to talk to them about it and explain what’s in the food. One of the things we try to do is, if you’re willing to try something, if you don’t like it, we’re willing to make you something else. You can go back to your favorite, no harm, no foul.

Is there anything you’re surprised customers either like or don’t like?

We were pleasantly surprised when we were serving a Shakshuka Bowl. Generally for fast casual, that was really food forward. That might be more served in a full-service breakfast environment, or in a more urban city setting than a suburban market like Phoenix. It didn’t have enough traction to stay on the menu, but it was gaining traction. Timing is everything; we could have been a year early, or two years early.

What are the broader breakfast trends today, and how is Wildflower pursuing those?

It’s still about some sort of localization—it doesn’t necessarily have to be locally grown, but there has to be some sort of story around that. We’re trying to find a way to tell that story around our products.

It also continues to be around portability; you’ve got to be able to have your food where you want to eat it. The packaging and the quality of that food coming home is a real opportunity for all of us to really figure out.

How much do you think fast casual is influencing the direction of breakfast?

Consumers have clearly been voting with their feet and their wallets. I think it’s a place where the most innovation can occur. When you think about it, the most innovation comes from the smaller guys—the mom and pops or the Wildflowers of the world. We fight on a regular basis not to lose that entrepreneurial gene, that essence of who we are, which is to innovate. It’s easy to go down the road of doing everything that’s safe, but that’s really boring. We want to have fun and be creative and push the food.

Breakfast, Business Advice, Fast Casual, Story, Wildflower Bread Company