With more quick-serve players jumping into the morning daypart, breakfast traffic continues to surge. A new report from The NPD Group, a global information and advisory firm, shows a 3 percent gain in sales during the morning meal across the whole restaurant industry in 2013.

“Breakfast has been a growth area for quite some time, but what’s been especially important about it now… is that this decade, visits to restaurants have slowed, and especially during the recession they declined for two years—but the morning meal was the bright spot,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst. “It continues to grow strongly while the other dayparts are not.”

The report reveals lunch and dinner traffic declined in 2013 across the whole industry. Quick-serve concepts accounted for 80 percent of the more than 12.5 billion breakfast visits, translating to a 4 percent increase in 2013 compared to the full-service industry’s 3 percent decline. Riggs says the great majority of growth in the morning meal is coming from quick serves at the helm of breakfast innovation.

“McDonald’s was the first one to introduce fast-food breakfast, and then Burger King followed suit, and it was mainly those two players for a long while,” she says, adding that the recession drove many other brands to expand to the daypart, and consumers came flocking partly because of lower prices. “It’s the cheapest meal you can get at a restaurant outside of a snack.”

Some of the most recent innovations at breakfast from quick serves include Au Bon Pain’s hybrid CroisBun, filled with either sweet cheese or strawberry and sweet cheese, and Caribou Coffee’s new pastry assortment, which includes artisanal Parisian Macarons, Spinach Feta Croissants, and Toffee Crunch Blondies.

Several brands are refining existing breakfast menus to include better-for-you options. “There definitely is a move toward eating healthy,… and when we’ve done studies on the morning meal, consumers say it gives them energy, it jumpstarts their day, it’s just a good way to start,” Riggs says.

Dunkin’ Donuts recently amped up its DDSMART menu to include items like a Sliced Turkey Breakfast Sandwich and a 160-calorie Wake-Up Wrap. Einstein Bros. Bagels renewed focus on the brand’s Smart Choices menu, adding Thintastic Bagels with 35 percent fewer calories.

“The big players in fast food in the breakfast market… are introducing a lot of new products, but beverages have also figured prominently into the growth at breakfast,” Riggs says. “It’s not just tradition coffee; it’s specialty coffee that has had a big impact on the growth of breakfast.” She points to brands like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts that continue to mix up drink offerings, innovating and changing with the seasons.

Dunkin’ unveiled Irish Crème and Mocha Irish Crème coffees and lattes and a new Lucky Mint Coolatta to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day while Starbucks launched the Vanilla Macchiato as a permanent addition to the menu.

And, of course, more players are jumping into the mix to get a share of the only growing daypart, the most recent and notable being Taco Bell. With a menu of portable, convenient, and unique breakfast items, the Mexican-inspired quick serve could thrive with the March 27 launch of its morning menu.

“It’ll definitely be a fight for market share. There are only so many people and so much demand,” Riggs says. “Those who are best able to meet consumers’ wants and needs at that daypart are the ones that will win market share.”

She says that in the future, we may see more quick serves offering breakfast longer or making certain morning menu items available all day. Riggs adds that at breakfast, it’s not Millennials driving traffic—it’s the Baby Boomer generation.  

“Historically, quick-serve operators have placed their focus on who the heaviest users were and that was the young crowd, but that’s no longer [at breakfast],” she says. “[Operators] really have to target Boomers.”

By Tamara Omazic

Beverage, Breakfast, Menu Innovations, News, Au Bon Pain, Caribou Coffee, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Taco Bell