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Uncommon Sense: The Global State of Breakfast? What the Consumer Wants, and How You Can Provide It
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Uncommon Sense: The Global State of Breakfast? What the Consumer Wants, and How You Can Provide It

Over the years, we’ve seen a trend toward increased multitasking—we no longer just wear a few hats, but an entire accessories section. We live in a world where there are alerts coming at us from every direction, nudging us from meeting to meeting, and if something you’re working on feels like it’s taking you too long, there’s probably an app for that! We’ve become so accustomed to this fast-paced lifestyle that it’s somehow even crept its way into how we consume food—you can see it in your local grocery store, in the form of the steadily intensifying progression toward “meals on the go” (which of course exacerbates our own crazy schedules today).

This is especially the case when you look at one meal in particular—breakfast. Consumer demand has driven a slew of new options for swift consumption that feature a mix of the familiar and the new in a bid to satisfy the growing “rush to sustenance.”

A recent Nielsen study on back-to-school consumption highlighted how far the traditional breakfast is under fire: It found that though majority of adults believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day, only one-third of children are provided breakfast at home. Many opt for meals-to-go. It should be no surprise, then, that the ready-to-eat (RTE) cereal category has seen significant decline over the past four years. The current 52-week average is down nearly $1 billion from the four-year average!

Instead, portable items like breakfast bars and yogurt are on the rise, and we’re more than willing to pay for convenience. In fact, breakfast bars have been able to increase their base pricing by nearly 20 cents over the past four years (a compound annual growth rate of 1.4%) on the back of the rapid growth of the category.

Not surprisingly, everyone wants to know “what’s next?” Well, the sales data can tell you that the future of breakfast is likely to continue to focus on “fast.” But, while sales data can tell you that whole grain sales and bulk shopping is down, it can’t paint the full picture of consumer attitudes—the “why behind the buy,” as it is often called. For that, you need leading indicators like consumer opinion polling.

Fortunately, Nielsen has a robust consumer insights division that includes The Harris Poll, which can take the pulse of up to 2,000 people in 30 countries in as little as three days. This custom public opinion research allowed us to poll people’s attitudes about the most important meal of the day in the U.S., U.K., China and Brazil. The goal was to understand trends and differences in attitude that would provide guidance to any company seeking to bring tasty, healthy and, most importantly, fast breakfast options for both busy kids and adults alike.

This opinion survey found that, in three of these important countries across four continents—all but the U.S.—almost everyone eats some form of breakfast, and a majority of those non-U.S. adults eat breakfast seven days a week. However, in the U.S., only about half eat breakfast every day. So one opportunity to do well by doing good is to find ways to put breakfast in front of almost 50% of Americans.

We also asked adults in these countries whether they agreed that breakfast was the “most important meal of the day.” The answer was a very widespread “‘yes,” with the sentiment highest in China (90%, vs. 82% in Brazil, 80% in the U.S. and 79% in the U.K.). At the same time, a sizable minority in each country do not feel as though there are enough healthy options available for breakfast, ranging from a quarter of consumers in the U.K., up to a third in China. Furthermore, given the daily realities of commuting for many, and travelling on business for some, many prefer a breakfast that is portable and easy to eat (China (49%), Brazil (44%), U.S. (42%), U.K. (27%)).

Breakfast isn’t dead, but it has certainly changed to fit the modern lifestyle. Without a crystal ball, we can’t say with certainty what the next breakfast trend is. Here, however, are some basic takeaways, should your product plans involve the future of breakfast foods:

  • Breakfast is still important, but more people are eating it outside the home, and that’s not likely to change. There is, in particular, a disconnect between consumers’ desire to enjoy a hearty first meal of the day, and the fact that they do not or choose not to make the time to do so. That is perhaps the biggest commercial opportunity in this space: How close can you get to a traditional home breakfast without requiring someone to sit down at home?
  • Consumers perceive a gap between what consumers want from their breakfast—something healthy but fast—and what is available to them today. This is a very conscious need, and so a ready audience awaits.
  • Consumers are shifting their purchases away from traditional sit-down breakfast staples like boxed cereal and substituting them with more portable healthy options.

Health, speed, portability—and something hearty that makes them feel at home outside the home—taken together, breakfast is a big innovation opportunity.

But this is obviously not just about product innovation. Companies should think of innovation of other kinds that meet the need for health and speed—innovations at the shelf, of the pack, of the production process—because there is no shortage of adults, especially Millennials, who want but aren’t getting the early-in-the-day nutrition they need to get a jump start on the day.

The data shows that breakfast won’t go away, but it will look different, and it will occur in different places with different foods. Most people still want to sit down, relax, and enjoy the most important meal of the day. How can you make them feel they have done so, if they don’t actually have the time?