Breakfast sandwiches are a quick, easy format for quick-service and fast-casual concepts to show off a bit of brand flair while offering a convenient on-the-go breakfast for guests. “Breakfast sandwiches are evolving and following the trend of the burger industry, in my opinion, taking a platform of an egg, bacon, and cheese sandwich and putting a brand-personality twist on it,” says Chad Thompson, vice president of culinary R&D for Coffee & Bagel Brands, which owns Einstein Bros. Bagels.
Typically, these sandwiches—whether presented in a biscuit, waffle, bun, or bagel—are well contained and hold their heat for the morning commute. To keep guests coming back on a regular basis, brands today aim to create tasty breakfast sandwiches with outside-the-box flavors, signature sauces and spreads, and options galore for the health-minded consumer.
Beyond the biscuit and bagel, brands are innovating the vehicle on which they present breakfast sandwiches. Dunkin’ and White Castle, for example, both offer Belgian waffle sandwiches. Dunkin’s, launched in August 2018, features sweet caramelized maple sugar bacon, egg, and American cheese sandwiched between golden Belgian waffles. Likewise, the brand’s Brown Sugar Chipotle Breakfast Sandwich brings together sweet and spicy brown-sugar-and-chipotle-seasoned bacon, egg, and cheese on a croissant.
Einstein Bros. is always experimenting with hybrid or bialy bagels, adding unique toppings—like hash browns, green chilies, jalapeño, cheeses, sautéed spinach, and bacon—to amp up the sandwich’s flavor. And chicken-and-waffle concept Bruxie is experimenting with a whole host of unique bases, like naan and tortillas, inspired by other cultures.
Not only do customers demand ease of service from quick-serve concepts at breakfast, but they also want products that are high in flavor and freshly prepared. “[It’s] all the things customers enjoy about going out for brunch on the weekends without the two-hour wait times and $80–$100 check,” says Einstein’s Thompson.
Jason Roy, co-owner at Biscuit Head—a four-location fast casual in North Carolina—predicts the quick-service industry will see more chef-driven menu items that elevate typical breakfast sandwiches. Eggs Benedict, for example, will never go out of style, and, moving forward, Roy expects to see people innovating the idea of a Benedict on fast-casual breakfast menus.
Hardee’s is likewise headed in the brunch direction with its Loaded Omelet Biscuit, which includes an omelet made from crumbled sausage, bacon, ham, and cheddar cheese stacked on the brand’s signature freshly baked biscuit. “[We’re] bringing a new convenience to this traditionally decadent breakfast option,” says Owen Klein, vice president of global culinary innovation at CKE Restaurants, which owns the brand. “While we do see a trend in convenience, Hardee’s will always prioritize offering hand-crafted quality you can taste.”
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Taking a nod from the industry as a whole, brands are also innovating breakfast menus with global flavors. Dunkin’s culinary team, says director of research and development Mike Brazis, looks for inspiration from around the globe and is gravitating toward Asian foods for their flair and style, Middle Eastern foods for their spice component, and European and Latin American offerings for their bold flavors. “Can’t you picture a bacon butty (U.K. favorite of bread, butter, and shoulder bacon) or a pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) being big hits in the U.S.?” Brazis says. “We’re also seeing the level of spice and heat in sandwiches gaining in interest.”
The single-unit restaurant Cultivation Kitchen in Anaheim, California, also looks abroad to offer one-of-a-kind menu items as guests become more inclined to try nontraditional breakfasts. “The combination of our classic ingredients like bacon, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onion, and lady lettuce, with more innovative ingredients such as truffled, organic over-easy eggs; chermoula (a marinade traditionally used for Moroccan and Tunisian cooking); and smoked tomato jalapeño jam, is what sets this sandwich apart from the others,” says Dale LaFlam, founder. Whether it’s matcha on a croissant, lavender in pancakes, or truffle oil in a breakfast sandwich, Cultivation Kitchen likes to incorporate healthy, interesting ingredients in common formats that highlight the delicious and rich flavors people love.
The Hummus & Pita Co. started offering a Middle Eastern breakfast with items like Greek potato and eggs in a laffa, shakshuka in a pita, and sabich with pita, hardboiled egg, fried eggplant, and Israeli salad with hummus on the menu at its Holmdel, New Jersey, location last November. “The new breakfast items have been a huge hit. Guest are loving it,” says Dave Pesso, head of business development for the brand.
Sauces are a great way for brands to offer a signature flavor, says Bruxie founder and chef Kelly Mullarney, who offers a range of 10 sauces. He sees Korean, Middle Eastern, and Indian cuisines as sources of inspiration. “Brands are going to start latching onto different flavor profiles and incorporating those to see what takes hold for breakfast sandwiches,” he says.
And, like the rest of the industry, leaders see breakfast and breakfast sandwiches becoming more inclusive for those diners looking to eat healthier, more vegan, and diet-specific foods. “I expect that more and more of these breakfast items will focus on better-for-you ingredients and will also include substitutes for meats and proteins,” says Kim Bartley, chief marketing officer at White Castle.
Biscuit Head’s Roy sees green bowls trending on quick-serve breakfast menus, but also more guilty-pleasure breakfasts. He’d like to see more vegan breakfast meats, as the brand has even created a vegan, gluten-free biscuit in anticipation of more diners with dietary restrictions.
Dunkin’ also has health on the mind with the introduction of the Power Breakfast Sandwich, which features a veggie egg white omelet with turkey sausage and American cheese on a multigrain sandwich bread topped with seeds and rolled oats at a mere 370 calories.