From breakfast to ‘deskfast'

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Breakfast

Eating breakfast at work is likely to become a regular occurrence
in the future, as the number of office canteens continues to rise
and as consumers spend more of their time at work. But in contrast,
weekend breakfasts are likely to become more indulgent, providing a
lifeline for the once ubiquitous British fry-up.

We all know that skipping breakfast is not the best way to start the day, but today’s time-poor consumers are increasingly doing just that. The need for foods which meet the demands of this kind of consumer has led to a number of on-the-go breakfast products in recent years, but as a new report from Datamonitor and Reuters Business Insight shows, the future of breakfast is not at home or on-the-go, but actually at work itself – the so-called ‘deskfast’.

The report, Future Breakfast Solutions​, claims that office canteens are the big growth area in the breakfast market as employers are keen to encourage employees to arrive at work early. This, along with premium on-the-go products and, increasingly, vending machines which can cook or chill breakfast foods, is the future for breakfast in many western countries.

However, its not just workers that are being targeted: children are being heavily targeted with processed options that satisfy parental convenience and excite children.

In the UK, this means that the traditional bacon and eggs are being increasingly marginalised. Over the last few years, they became the reserve of the weekend indulgence, but they now face stiff competition from the deluge of indulgent breakfast options such as muffins, smoothies and waffles that have become popular as more and more Britons choose to adopt the US weekend brunch.

Eating breakfast at home is expected to become rarer and rarer in the future as consumers either opt to eat on-the-go, at work or even to skip breakfast entirely. A variety of factors such as increased labour mobility and longer working hours ensure that consumers do not have sufficient time in the morning to prepare and enjoy a traditional breakfast.

On-the-go breakfast consumption and 'deskfasts' are both hot topics in the breakfast market, as manufacturers move to recover lost revenues from declining at-home consumption. The need for cash-rich, time-poor consumers to eat on-the-go and in the office has led to social rules becoming more liberal, and consumers no longer feel embarrassed to eat in public places or in front of workmates in the office.

Large breakfasts at home are becoming less common, with consumers instead opting to wake up later or get to work earlier. Rather, the breakfast occasion is deconstructed into a series of snacking opportunities - perhaps starting with some food for the journey to work, but almost certainly featuring bakery products and confectionery that are eaten in the workplace. Large packaging formats are gaining popularity as these snacks can be kept on the desk or in the car or briefcase on the way to work, to fend off any hunger pangs during the day.

According to the report, young office workers are pressed for time and looking for a fast and functional breakfast solution. Often, the weekday breakfast solution lacks the nutritional value required to evade hunger until lunchtime, tempting the consumer to eat on-the-go or to escape the office for a mid-morning coffee and a cake, muffin or cereal/chocolate bar.

Canteen numbers rising

In order to stop staff leaving the office at regular intervals, employers are increasingly opening office canteens. These also encourage employees to arrive at work early and stay later, and employees are often happy to have an enjoyable and cost-effective breakfast prepared for them. As the proportion of workplace canteens that are operated by the major independent caterers continues to rise, it is expected that many more consumers will be offered an attractive workplace breakfast option.

But breakfast will never be eaten entirely in the office and there will always be an on-the-go element to the meal, especially as food manufacturers come up with increasingly tasty, and convenient, products. The retailers have already seen the benefit of these products, and many have begun to place all breakfast foods together in an easily accessible 'breakfast zone' that is packed with exciting new breakfast foods as well as many of the established retail options such as cereal, bakery, dairy products and fresh fruit.

While many consumers are often confused by retailer initiatives to group products by meal occasion rather than by food type, the approach encourages the consumer to upgrade to premium alternatives that they may not have seen previously.

As with many areas of modern life, technology is likely to play an increasing part in the future. The vending machine – already widely used for distributing soft drinks and snacks - is set to evolve into a supplier of a much wider range of products, including breakfast.

The next generation of vending machines uses technology that allows food to be chilled or frozen and then toasted or baked to make enjoyable and indulgent breakfast options that can compete with the taste of foodservice options.

Take time at the weekend

But if consumers want convenience when it comes to their weekday breakfasts, at the weekend they are increasingly looking for something more sophisticated. There has been an upsurge in demand for more enjoyable and indulgent weekend breakfast options, where the consumer can take the time to relax with friends and family.

Additionally, the greater proliferation of premium and exotic products has increased the desire of consumers to assemble their own indulgent breakfast. Greater labour mobility has meant that many people live further from friends and family as well as the increase in the number of single person households - meaning that people are more likely to stay over in the homes of friends or family when they visit, thus increasing the likelihood of being treated to a comprehensive and indulgent weekend breakfast.

While the traditional British fry-up has suffered because it is time consuming to prepare and deemed unhealthy, consumers are returning to more leisurely breakfast options at the weekend because of the frugal nature of their breakfasts during the week. This has helped the fry-up stage something of a comeback in recent years, but the abundance of other premium breakfast options, many viewed as healthier than a fry-up, means that many consumers look for a variety of health foods for an indulgent weekend breakfast.

However for those looking for a convenient fry-up, manufacturers have moved on from breakfast-in-a-can to providing frozen options, with Tesco Frozen Breakfast Platter and Iceland All Day Breakfast being two examples in the UK.

American influence

Across Europe, breakfast is seen as something that the Americans are unarguably good at. For some consumers, this perception has been formed after enjoying indulgent breakfast buffets while on holiday in the United States - which typically includes a wide variety of breakfast food types, from fresh fruit and juice to cereal, pancakes, omelettes, steak and 'bottomless' mugs of filter coffee.

For other European consumers, it is their perception of the United States as a wealthy, convenience-driven nation that gives US breakfast foods their credentials to solve the morning 'nutrition problem' for cash-rich, time-poor European consumers. Popular US breakfast foods, particularly from the cereal giants, are also able to make a major impact in Europe as manufacturers back the introduction of new products with expensive advertising campaigns - often out-ranking the marketing expenditure made by the manufacturers of traditional breakfast options.

French and Italian breakfast options, particularly croissants, pain au chocolat and espresso, are almost universally popular, but those countries themselves are steadily increasing the consumption of breakfast cereals. In contrast, countries with a more established cereal culture (ie the UK and the United States) are moving towards greater consumption of French and Italian-style breakfast foods.

Cereals and cereal bars still rule in UK

But there is still a long way to go before the breakfast cereal is completely ousted. Although cereal consumption is relatively high in Scandinavia, France and Germany, it is consumers in the UK and the United States who have really adopted cereals as the mainstream breakfast option. Breakfast cereals account for about a quarter of total breakfast spending in the UK and the United States, compared to levels below 10 per cent in continental Europe.

However, value growth in the largest cereal markets is under threat, not only from dropping at-home breakfast consumption, but also from private label alternatives. In fact, private label manufacturers like Dailycer in the UK have helped evolve the role of private label away from the traditional 'me too' image, into market innovators with heavy investment in new product development.

The UK is also the biggest market in Europe for cereal bars, with sales growth exceeding 16 per cent per annum over the last five years. This is mainly due to the launch of Rice Krispies Squares and heavy advertising for NutriGrain, whose strapline has been changed from 'breakfast on-the-go' to 'food to go' in a deliberate effort to broaden the products' appeal to other times of day. Frusli, a new softer textured cereal bar has also been selling well and benefits from Jordan's strong association with natural, healthy ingredients.

Related topics: Retail & Shopper Insights

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