What’s Trending with Breakfast Baked Goods?

Bakery goods are longstanding staples on breakfast menus. Operators love them because they are low-risk items, easy to showcase in front of customers and can serve as a platform for innovation. Additionally, operators love that bakery goods are often purchased on impulse, especially at bakery cafés or coffee shops where they are displayed near the cash register. Consumers gravitate to bakery goods because they are indulgent comfort foods that are easy to eat on the go. Although made with many of the same ingredients—such as eggs, flour, sugar and yeast—bakery goods come in a large array of offerings, from fried doughnuts to baked muffins to boiled bagels. Innovation within this menu category is occurring through flavor experimentation, new portion sizes and mash-up novelties.

Bakery Good Purchases and Attributes

Consumers were asked to identify the type of foodservice location from which they typically buy breakfast bakery goods. Fast-food burger and sandwich restaurants were indicated by 30% of respondents overall; this top response skewed most strongly toward 25–34 year olds (39%). Coffee cafés like Starbucks and Dunkin’ were most likely to be mentioned by the youngest male consumers, aged 18–24; 37% of younger males said that they purchase bakery goods for breakfast from this type of restaurant.

Other findings pointed to regional preferences. Bakery cafés like Panera Bread, Au Bon Pain or Corner Bakery Cafe were the clear choice of consumers in the Northeast (25%). Gender differences were also apparent; for example, women aged 18–24 (21%) were nearly twice as likely as older women to say that they source breakfast bakery goods from a supermarket or other type of retailer, such as Target or Costco.

Bakery goods can successfully function in a variety of ways on breakfast menus, from main entrees to sides or snacks. Overall consumer responses back this up, as data shows that consumers are most likely to indicate that they “sometimes” choose bakery goods as a meal (32%), a side item (41%) or a between-meal offering (39%). They are far less likely to say that they “always” select bakery goods for a specific mealpart. This signals that at any given time, bagels, muffins, doughnuts and other bakery goods can fit well into varying occasions, based on the individual customer’s need state during breakfast.

How can restaurants create a good breakfast bakery item? According to consumers, nothing is more important than freshness. More than nine out of 10 consumers (92%) said that a bakery offering that is “made fresh that day” conveys that the item is good. An appetizing appearance and appealing price point are important to nearly the same proportion of breakfast consumers (89%). Other top responses pointed to the importance of quality ingredients and preparations for bakery goods; 88% called “quality ingredients” important, while 85% indicated that bakery goods that are served at the appropriate temperature is important in creating a good item.

Leading Bakery Goods

Bagel is the top breaded item on breakfast menus, followed by English muffin and biscuit. These items are popular because they are speedy to order, convenient to eat, and serve as a base for an array of breakfast condiments, from cream cheese to peanut butter to fruit spreads. It is also not surprising that muffins, croissants, doughnuts and cinnamon rolls also fall within the top 10 ranking because they have mass appeal at breakfast. When looking closer at each of these leading bakery goods, trends emerge to showcase how operators are innovating within this menu category.

Consumers are presented with a wide variety of options for breakfast, but of all bakery goods, bagels are most likely to be ordered, and are ordered most frequently. Their broad-ranging flavor and preparation versatility—whether sweet or savory, plain or served with toppings—drives bagels’ strong appeal at breakfast across demographics. Purchase frequency is highest among consumers aged 25–34, particularly among men and customers in the Northeast.

Trends within Bagels Include:

  • Adding bold ingredients like jalapeño and Pepper Jack cheese

  • Enhancing traditional condiments like cream cheese, jam and peanut butter with new flavors

  • Using new breads such as challah, whole wheat, pumpernickel and multigrain

  • Offering smaller, mini sizes to emphasize better-for-you eating and portion control

The preference and purchase frequency of biscuits skews strongly toward consumers in the South. Thanks to the savory flavor, flaky texture and low overhead costs of these items, biscuit-focused concepts like Empire Biscuit in New York City are trending nationwide. Biscuits are typically prepared with baking soda or powder (or both), flour, butter and/or milk. Operators can also use the following ingredients and preparations to add their own twist:

  • Buttermilk—used to create flaky Southern-style biscuits, buttermilk adds a moist, softer texture

  • Animal Fat/Lard—the richness of the fat creates a tender, flakier texture; commonly used animal fats include pork, duck and chicken

  • Sour Cream—sometimes called Midwest-style, sour-cream biscuits have a richer (yet still light) taste

  • Condiments—biscuits can be enhanced with traditional condiments like jams and peanut butter

Well-positioned as better-for-you or more sweet and indulgent, muffins also have solid appeal across multiple consumer groups. Half of consumers indicate they purchase muffins for breakfast once a month or more often. Of these consumers, Caucasian women between the ages of 35 and 54, and respondents who fell into middle- to upper-income ranges, were noticeably more likely to purchase muffins for breakfast.

Muffins are typically palm-sized or smaller and offer endless flavors, like fruit, chocolate and spices. In addition, these versatile breakfast breads can be served hot or cold and with a selection of fruit spreads, butters and other toppings.

On their own, croissants are served plain (often accompanied by butter or some sort of fruit spread) or with an assortment of flavors and fillings. The doughy decadence of croissants pairs well with indulgent ingredients such as chocolate, cream cheese and cinnamon sugar, as well as sweeter fruits like apricot, strawberry and apple. Savory options may include nutty flavors like almond and pecan, and traditional breakfast handheld fillings like cheddar, ham and spinach.

Nearly half of consumers (46%) said that they order doughnuts at least once a month or more. Of consumers who frequently order doughnuts for breakfast, the overwhelming majority are young men between the ages of 25 and 34. More than eight out of 10 young male consumers are frequent purchasers of doughnuts.

A few years ago, operators turned to doughnuts as the next trend-forward treat following the specialty cupcake movement. Thus, artisan doughnut shops rapidly popped up across the country, selling gourmet original and nontraditional doughnut flavors as breakfast goods, snacks and desserts. Some new doughnut trends to note include:

  • Using savory and spicy ingredients in doughs or as toppings, including olive oil, bacon and cheddar cheese

  • Highlighting over-the-top decadent flavors and ingredients like crème brûlée, cookies and cream, and red velvet

  • Incorporating teas such as matcha green tea and Earl grey into the dough for added flavor

  • Creating mash-up bakery goods using doughnuts, such as a doughnut-croissant blend

Danish, Turnovers & Toaster Pastries
Danish, turnovers and toaster pastries are among the least likely to be cited as a breakfast choice. Roughly a quarter of consumers overall indicated that they choose each of these types of bakery goods for breakfast at least once a month. Of consumers who said that they occasionally order Danish, women were much more likely to give this response. On the other hand, men were much more likely to order a toaster pastry item.

The fundamental difference of these three morning treats is their shape. There are many types of fillings that can go into these offerings, but fruit is the most common. Apple is the top flavor filling in Danish, representing 6.5% of all Danish incidences, perhaps because the taste is comparable to an apple pie.

3 Areas of Opportunity for Bakery Goods

  1. Experimenting with Overlooked Bakery Goods

    Hiding in the shadows of more popular items like bagels and muffins are other morning treats with huge growth potential on menus. These include cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, bear claws and scones. Operators have ample room to experiment with new flavors and preparations of these items, which might lead to one of these bakery goods becoming the next big trend in foodservice, much like doughnuts. Innovation could include adding a touch of honey, vanilla or chocolate to doughs, or rolling out seasonal options like cranberry, pumpkin and peach.

  2. Touting Better for You

    Bakery goods have a reputation for being indulgent because they are commonly made with sugary and buttery ingredients. Some consumers avoid purchasing bakery goods because of this extravagant factor. Since “better for you” can be defined different ways, operators should cater to their particular consumer base. For some operators, this could mean promoting multigrain or whole-wheat choices, while others may want to publicize gluten-free or low-sugar options, as well as smaller or mini-sized portions.

  3. Condiments Matter

    Much of the appeal of bakery goods is the assortment of tasty condiments—such as fruit spreads, cream cheeses, peanut butters and honey—that pair well with these items. To maximize the potential of bakery goods on menus, operators should offer an array of condiment options, including traditional and unique flavor varieties. To promote convenience and customization, providing a condiment bar encourages patrons to mix-and-match toppings and experiment with new options.

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