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Breakfast on the run

Restaurants add portable meals to appeal to consumers on the go.

The grab-and-go trend is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the breakfast daypart, as operators have rolled out a plethora of sandwiches, wraps, bowls and smoothies in an effort to fit seamlessly into consumers’ busy morning routines.

“Restaurants are benefiting from on-the-go breakfasts,” David Portalatin, vice president and food industry advisor for market research firm The NPD Group, told NRN earlier this year. “It’s not more people eating breakfast; it’s more restaurants making breakfast easier.”

And breakfast is a rare bright spot in a business environment marked by stagnant traffic trends. In fact, breakfast was the only restaurant daypart to experience sales growth in 2018, according to NPD research.

Breakfast bowls: Bolder flavors, more choices

Bowls, in particular, have met consumers’ demands for portable morning meal solutions, and can be easily customized — lighter for those seeking a more healthful start to the day or rich and hearty for those looking for something more indulgent.

Quick-service giant Dunkin’, for example, has been bolstering its breakfast offerings this year with egg bowls featuring a variety of flavor profiles. In August, the chain introduced The Fire Roasted Veggie Bowl and the Chorizo Bowl, both available for an unspecified limited time.

The Fire Roasted Veggie Bowl, with 15 grams of protein and 250 calories, is made with eggs, cauliflower, brown rice, Monterey Jack cheese, pepper jack cheese and mix of fire-roasted veggies including onions, red and green bell peppers, corn and black beans with chipotle sauce. The more indulgent Chorizo Bowl is made with eggs, diced chorizo, Monterey Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, brown rice, red bell peppers, poblano peppers, red quinoa and smoky tomato sauce.

“The addition of the Fire Roasted Veggie Bowl and Chorizo Bowl offer Dunkin’ customers two new breakfast options for eating on the run,” a Dunkin’ spokesperson said.

While the Fire Roasted Veggie Bowl offers a better-for-you option, the Chorizo Bowl gives customers “a heartier option to enjoy if they’re also craving a little bit of spice,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier this year, Dunkin’ also introduced two other egg bowls as limited-time offers, an Egg White Bowl and Sausage Scramble Bowl.

Sandwiches and wraps: Effortlessly portable

Sandwiches and wraps — endlessly customizable and inherently portable — have been a blank canvas for restaurants looking to attract consumers with creative flavors in a convenient package.

Panera in April introduced three new breakfast wraps, geared to balance consumers’ desire for convenience, health and flavor.

“People are compromising between convenience and quality in the morning, and we know that’s a problem Panera can help solve,” Blaine Hurst, then-CEO of Panera, said in a statement at the time of the launch. “Craveable, clean, high-quality menu options made easily accessible by digital and channel access is what has propelled our lunch business forward. Now we are taking that powerful combination to breakfast.”

The three new breakfast wraps — an entirely new category for Panera — include the Chipotle Chicken, Egg & Avocado Wrap, which is made with smoked Gouda cheese, avocado, cilantro, Peppadew peppers and chipotle aïoli; the Mediterranean Egg White Wrap, made with basil-white bean purée, crumbled feta cheese, smoky tomato confit and spinach; and the Maple Glazed Bacon, Egg & Cheese Wrap, made with sweet maple, bacon and smoked Gouda.

Mexican quick-service chain Del Taco, meanwhile, emphasizes value and bold flavor with its latest breakfast offering, the Breakfast Toasted Wrap, priced at $2. The hand-held item, which debuted late this summer, includes scrambled eggs, hand-grated cheddar cheese, hash brown sticks, handmade pico de gallo, casera salsa and the choice of smoked bacon or chorizo, all wrapped in a flour tortilla and grilled.

“Instead of another breakfast sandwich with only eggs, cheese and bacon, we’re able to offer guests additional exciting Mexican flavors like casera salsa, Mexican chorizo, and hand-made pico de gallo,” said Barry Westrum, Del Taco’s chief marketing officer. “It’s not only crisp and flavorful, but it’s extremely portable for those that eat on the go.”

Other popular breakfast items at Del Taco include its $1 Breakfast Rollers, which offer a smaller portion of such ingredients as egg, cheese, bacon roasted chile salsa and chorizo sausage rolled in a tortilla; and its Epic Scramblers, a heartier burrito that the chain says offers “over a pound of your favorite breakfast tastes.”

On-the-go breakfasts are especially important in noncommercial settings, where students or workers are often grabbing a bite to eat off premises. Many of them are increasingly seeking out better-for-you options, too.

Saxbys, which operates coffee shops on several college campuses through its Experiential Learning Program in addition to commercial sites in other locations, recently rolled out a Plant-Powered Breakfast Sandwich using an egg substitute, a house-made vegan pesto spread and tomato on a toasted Saxbys bagel.

“Our collegiate guests are on the leading edge of adventure via healthfulness, but also need approachable options that fit their busy days,” said Russ Wilkin, vice president of marketing and product for Saxbys.

Wilkin added that the chain been taking a holistic approach to seek out and develop more inclusive options across its entire menu.

“We’re constantly looking for new ways to exceed guest demands for plant-powered options,” Wilkin he said.

The company seeks to provide menu items that check all the boxes for today’s mindful, on-the-go eater.

“In the past, these demands always felt like tradeoffs: Indulgent can't be nutritious. Delicious can't be convenient,” Wilkin said. “Creating breakthrough guest favorites requires us to deliver indulgent, nutritious and convenient options such as this plant-powered breakfast sandwich without sacrifices.”

Smoothies and oats: Better-for-you options

Other grab-and-go breakfasts that have seen success at noncommercial foodservice venues include smoothies and build-your-own oatmeal stations.

Smoothies in particular are natural fit for customers seeking fast, healthful dishes. These items can be easily customized to satisfy individual preferences, or can be made ahead as a grab-and-go option alongside such items as yogurt-and-granola parfaits and açai bowls.

Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., for example, offers customizable smoothie and chia pudding bowls at its Spirit Bowls concept. Garnishes include fresh and dried fruit, granola, oat-chia puddings, nut butters, coconut flakes and others.

Overnight oats — rolled oats that are soaked in milk, yogurt or other liquid rather than boiled —  have become a popular grab-and-go breakfast item.

At Klingberg Family Centers in New Britain, Conn., for example, the alternative school and nonprofit agency combines oats, low-fat yogurt and milk with different fruits and other add-ons combinations to create a variety of flavors, such as “apple pie” made by adding cinnamon and apples.

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