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.
On the savory side, baked egg items offer a solution to those who don’t like sweets in the morning, Davis says. At the Downtown Disney location, baked egg dishes are grab and go, which presents a quick solution for those who are off to the theme park, he says. There’s a traditional Quiche Lorraine made in a pie crust with egg, spinach, and cheese, as well as the Egg Pie, which La Brea Bakery has been creating for more than 20 years. It has a potato crust that is smashed into the tray and baked before it’s filled with egg and vegetables, which Davis says gives it more texture and flavor than a quiche.
The Café also serves up breakfast sandwiches on a variety of artisan rolls and croissants. While they’re not as adventurous at Disney as they are at the La Brea Bakery’s retail store in Los Angeles, the Café’s chefs will change up sandwich ingredients, such as using applewood-smoked bacon instead of regular or mixing scallions into the eggs, Davis says.
By offering baked items, quick serves can add “a level of simplicity” to their operation, he says. The products are also friendlier to facilities that aren’t set up for made-to-order items; all they need is an oven.
Panera Bread has become the largest fast casual in the U.S. in no small part because of its artisan baking, making fresh dough from scratch and handcrafting an array of pastries, muffins, bagels, and breads.
“It’s this commitment to our artisan baking craft that sets our baked goods apart,” says Scott Davis, executive vice president and chief concept officer for the St. Louis–based company with more than 1,600 bakery-cafés in 44 states and Canada. “Our customers look to our bakery for breads, bagels, and pastries they can trust, which are made fresh on site each day.”
Choices range from the traditional French Croissant and Cinnamon Roll to the reduced-fat Peach Pecan Crunch Muffin and the more decadent Strawberries & Cream Scone, a cream-based scone made with dried strawberries and white chocolate chips.
Adding to an already diverse selection of signature breakfast sandwiches, such as the Roasted Turkey & Sun Dried Tomato Pesto and the Mediterranean Egg White on fresh-baked ciabatta, the chain introduced a line of baked egg soufflés.
“We saw a need for savory, higher-protein morning meals and used our pastry dough as a platform to offer customers an egg-based breakfast,” Scott Davis says. “The result was a handheld, savory morning meal that, even after the successful launch of our breakfast sandwiches, has continued to be a favorite with the morning crowd.”
The four varieties offered are Four Cheese, Spinach & Artichoke, Sausage & Gouda, and Spinach & Bacon.
Biscuits, which have become a popular trend across the industry, are at the heart of every Bojangles’ restaurant, where they’re served with 80 percent of orders. Randy Poindexter, senior vice president of marketing, says fresh biscuits are baked every 20 minutes all day long at Bojangles’ restaurants.
The biscuits require a 12-step process carried out by certified master bakers at each of the more than 550 units in the North Carolina–based chain’s system.
“Biscuits have always played an important role in Bojangles’, ever since our founder perfected it in 1977,” Poindexter says. “Biscuits go well with all of our products.” Poindexter says breakfast is the brand’s biggest daypart at 40 percent of sales.
The Cajun Filet Biscuit, the restaurant’s most popular item, is just as popular at lunch, dinner, and breakfast, Poindexter says. That’s also true for every other biscuit item, from the Bacon, Egg and Cheese and Country Ham Biscuits to the Gravy Biscuit.
It’s even true of the sweet Bo-Berry Biscuit, which doubles as a breakfast item and dessert. Made with blueberries and drizzled with icing, this biscuit has taken on a life of its own. Customer response has been so great that Bojangles’ has made it the star of several holiday-themed limited-time offers. For Independence Day and Veterans Day, there’s the Red, White, and Bo-Berry Biscuit, made with a cherry-flavored filling, blueberries, and white icing. And it takes on a heart shape at Valentine’s Day.
“It’s one of those things people are pretty fanatical about,” Poindexter says.
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