This protein is poised for growth in this crucial daypart.

Sponsored by Southeastern Mills.

Despite all the attention it’s received over the last few years, restaurants and the consumers they serve still haven’t grown tired of breakfast and brunch. The Mintel Menu Insights 2017 Breakfast and Brunch Food Report shows that the number of breakfast menu items in the U.S. increased 7 percent between the second quarter of 2015 and the same quarter of 2017, while brunch grew by 25 percent.

Restaurants still have plenty of room to expand and adapt menu offerings for this daypart. Though breakfast and brunch menu offerings traditionally center around pork products like sausage and bacon, research suggests that adding or increasing chicken offerings during this morning meal period could help restaurants shine.

Many restaurants already serve chicken during lunch and dinner, making it a natural fit for breakfast menus at a number of concepts. A Mintel Menu Insights report says instances of chicken being used in the restaurant industry as an ingredient have grown by 137 percent over the past three years. Chicken sausage has grown by 1,300 percent for the same period.

Despite this growth, chicken is still rare enough on breakfast and brunch menus that it can serve as a point of differentiation from other brands. Datassential’s March 2018 Breakfast overview reports that only 22.8 percent of quick-service restaurants are offering chicken during breakfast, compared to bacon, which has 78.4 percent menu penetration, and sausage, at 72.4 percent.

“Consumers are looking for different forms of protein across the board,” says Cristine Shipley, director of culinary at Marlin Network Culinary Arts. “Swapping out chicken instead of the traditional sausage or bacon will meet consumer demand for something new at breakfast.”

Pork and chicken also don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A combination pairing the two, such as Bob Evans’s breakfast chicken featuring praline sauce with bacon bits on top, combines the best of both and presents a unique option that diners couldn’t find anywhere else.

Another big plus in chicken’s favor is the fact that many consumers view it as a healthy protein choice. Mintel’s March 2017 Healthy Dining Trends reports that 67 percent of diners associate chicken dishes with being healthy. The same report says that 33 percent of diners at breakfast name health concerns as a reason for not dining out, so restaurants can overcome that perception by offering healthier options that use the protein, like Chick-fil-A’s Egg White Grill Sandwich, featuring grilled chicken, cooked egg whites, American cheese, and a toasted multigrain English muffin.

Though less healthy than grilled, fried chicken is ubiquitous and presents restaurants with a simple, yet effective menu option. Datassential MenuTrends 2017 reports that fried chicken already appears on 41 percent of U.S. menus, and it’s already seeing 9.1 percent four-year growth on breakfast menus. Biscuits are also experiencing strong four-year growth of 33 percent. Pairing these two classics together can create an exciting, yet easy to execute menu choice. “The versatility of fried chicken makes it a natural for breakfast,” says Hadley Katzenbach, corporate chef at Southeastern Mills. “It can be as simple as putting a filet on a biscuit.”

Chicken can be as simple or complex as a brand wishes because it can be effectively used in so many applications. “Chicken provides the perfect canvas for creative exploration across the menu, from flavors to preparations to dayparts,” Shipley says.

Whether presented in a well-known format or paired with bold and lesser known flavors, chicken is a familiar base that makes consumers feel safe ordering it. “Fried chicken lends itself to such a wide variety of flavor profiles, such as a tried and true Chicken Fried Chicken with Peppered Gravy,” Katzenbach says. “On the other end of the spectrum, I would bet that South American Latin Fried Chicken Chunks in a breakfast bowl with some scrambled eggs, spicy pico de gallo, black beans, avocado, and queso would be a perfect pairing.”

Not only is a versatile protein that takes flavor well, but offering chicken at breakfast also adds operational benefits. First, because it enjoys a place on prominence on many concepts’ menus during other dayparts, kitchen staff already know how to work on it. This reduces training time and the risk of mistakes. Additionally, because it can be served at any daypart, it gives restaurant leaders a chance to reduce the number of different products they must order and keep in inventory.

Most importantly, however, consumers simply love chicken and are eager to see it in more menu applications. “Some people aren’t big fan of eating beef or pork for breakfast, but when you throw chicken on the menu it typically flies out the kitchen every time—no pun intended,” says Nick Landry, corporate chef for Southeastern Mills.

By Peggy Carouthers

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