MORNINGS ARE HARD for consumers. The average American gets less than seven hours of sleep a night, and in the rush to get up and out the door, a good breakfast often gets left on the table.
CPG companies can't do much to solve the first issue. But they are trying to make a healthy breakfast more palatable and more convenient for Americans. Recently, this has meant releasing lesser-evil versions of classic favorites.
“Consumers are eating healthier, yet we also see a return to indulgent comfort foods,” stated a recent report on the breakfast food market by the research firm Mintel, Chicago. “This sets the stage for better-for-you comfort foods.”
One of the more enticing options getting a lot of buzz is waffles. This time-honored toastable has proven itself a good carrier for all sorts of popular health benefits, from protein to whole grains and fiber. It's also gaining attention for what ingredients can be taken out, with companies like Vans introducing gluten-free and low-fat waffles.
“There's a lot of love for the waffle right now,” said Kara Nielsen, trendologist with the Center for Culinary Development, San Francisco. “It's a carrier that can be dressed up or dressed down.”
According to the Mintel report, one of the fastest growing brands in the entire breakfast segment is Kashi's GoLean line of seven-grain waffles, with sales increasing 27% in the past year. A good example of health merging with indulgence, the line comes in flavors like blueberry and strawberry flax and prominently displays the amount of protein, fiber and fat per serving on the front of each box.
At B&R Stores in Lincoln, Neb., sales of better-for-you waffles shot up 44% this past year, according to Scott Collins, director of category management.
“That's a tremendous increase,” he said. “It's not necessarily a large base of customers who are buying those. But still, 44% is phenomenal.”
Sales boosts like this are leading B&R to add hundreds of new natural and organic products in its stores. In the cereal aisle, for instance, the company's standard 4-foot section of natural and organic choices will soon increase to 8 feet.
The cereal category as a whole is undergoing a healthy transformation. For years, popular brands have made claims about heart health, lowering cholesterol and such. Now, in a reflection of consumers' increasing knowledge of nutrition, companies are marketing specific nutrients and health attributes. In some cases, they're even promoting whole grain, fiber or protein amounts on the front of the package. Wheaties Fuel, the latest high-energy offering under the well-known brand name, sports the claim, “100% daily value of five B-vitamins”.
General Mills, which manufacturers Wheaties, is also dabbling in better-for-you indulgence with Chocolate Cheerios. Collins said he reviewed the new boxes recently and was surprised to see the emphasis firmly on health.
“At first blush you think that would be contrary to the better-for-you trend, and then you look and it's low-fat, heart healthy and a good source of calcium and vitamin D,” he said. “That's how they're going to market with this.”
More cereal makers are also going “natural,” according to Susan Viamari, editor of Information Resource Inc.'s Times & Trends report, with 11% of products in the category now making this claim.
“This is pretty important, because although organic is doing very well, consumers are also interested in natural foods,” she said.
In many cases, manufacturers have opted to reformulate their products. Kellogg Co. recently announced that by the end of this year the majority of its cereals will contain at least 10% of the recommended daily amount of fiber. General Mills, meanwhile, pledged to reduce sugar content in cereals marketed to children to single digits per serving.
Sugar has become a target ingredient for hot and cold cereal manufacturers in light of increasing skepticism from consumers. Recent studies, like one released by Yale University last month, show that despite earlier efforts, kids' cereals contain nearly twice as much sugar as adult varieties.
“There's definitely an awareness about sugar content in cereals, and I think people are looking at their Nutrition Facts labels more often,” said Leah McGrath, registered dietitian with Ingles Market, Asheville, N.C.
Beyond firmly established categories like cereal and waffles, there are a few upstarts out there gaining share. Frozen breakfast meals, for one, is a small but promising market.
Jimmy Dean D-Lights line of low-fat breakfast entrees, which saw sales grow by 38% last year, according to Mintel, are getting healthful makeovers with egg whites, turkey sausage, low-fat cheese and whole grain bread. The company points out that its turkey sausage breakfast sandwich contains half the fat and a third of the calories of other leading breakfast sandwiches.
“There are a lot more options now with complete meals in the grocery section,” said McGrath.
There's also an opportunity to appeal to those people who don't have time to sit down in the morning, much less warm up the toaster. Twenty-four percent of consumers eat breakfast on the go at least three times a week, according to IRI, and 40% say they eat on the go at least once a week.
Manufacturers have increased production of nutrition bars and smoothies, which are often infused with protein, vitamins and minerals. Yogurt, a $4.1 billion industry that's projected to grow past $5 billion by 2014, also offers a quick, healthy morning boost.
“People are looking for on-the-go treats that keep the metabolism going once they've started the day,” said Viamari.
Stock better-for-you breakfast foods next to the conventional alternatives, to promote comparison shopping.
Be aware that health issues like gluten intolerance are a growing part of the carb-heavy breakfast category.
Utilize store dietitians to educate consumers and promote sampling on weekends.