Long considered the most important meal of the day, in recent years, breakfast as an eating occasion has hit hard times. Many time-starved consumers have, in fact, all but abandoned the morning respite for a variety of reasons. However, the category has managed to roll with this trend, and many items expand the traditional notions and usages of breakfast foods.

Simply getting adults and children to consume breakfast is a difficult task. Estimates from the NPD Group Inc. indicate the average person skips breakfast at least once a week, and about 25% of Americans skip breakfast on average. Reasons for eschewing breakfast include time constraints, limited availability of ready-to-eat foods and concerns about body weight.

The latter concern raises a number of eyebrows in the medical community and was, in fact, rebuffed by a study conducted by Kellogg's and Block Dietary Data Systems. According to Dr. Gladys Block, professor of Nutritional Epidemiology at the University of California at Berkeley and senior scientist at Block Dietary Data Systems, “We concluded from this study that high-fiber, lowfat breakfasts may promote maintenance of healthy body weight. Other studies have shown that breakfast skippers tend to gain rather than lose weight because they are more likely to overcompensate for the loss of calories at breakfast by eating more high-fat foods later in the day.”

To get the most from the morning meal, nutritionists are telling consumers to look for a mix of carbohydrates, protein and a little fat. Additionally, the added benefits from fortified cereal can add to the breakfast boost.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Some, however, question whether those fortifications may do more harm than good. In fact, researchers at the Food and Drug Administration have discovered cereal eaters may get more nutrients than they need.

A study reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition tested 29 top-selling cereals. Over half had at least 20% more iron and 50% more folate than the labels indicated. While the explanation is simple (many makers overload cereals with vitamins that break down over their shelf life), this—combined with the abundant servings adults tend to allow themselves—can lead to an excess of certain nutrients.For example, men who consume too much iron may risk an increased chance of heart disease and certain cancers.

To be safe, cereal consumers are encouraged to follow serving-size suggestions, though simply finding time to eat breakfast at all can be a challenge for some time-starved consumers. This need for convenience is driving the growth of instant products, including frozen waffles and pancakes, and breakfast alternatives—grab-and-go foods such as breakfast power bars.

Kellogg's has even managed to remove a breakfast preparation step. No longer must consumers spread butter or syrup over waffles, Kellogg's Waf-Fulls are Eggo waffles with a maple syrup, strawberry or apple-cinnamon filling. However, Kellogg's has not focused all attention on more traditional breakfast fare. The company has also debuted a new Pop-Tarts flavor, one that sounds geared more to a dessert occasion than to breakfast.

“Chocolate Chip Pop-Tarts toaster pastry was the first new all-family flavor added to the line in 10 years,” according to Meghan Parkhurst, a Kellogg's spokesperson. “Kellogg's has introduced a number of kid-focused flavors during that time period. Chocolate Chip was the number one tested flavor. Five of the top eight flavors favored by consumers are of a chocolate chip variety. Additionally, the biggest increase in sales has been from chocolate flavors. Total sales on chocolate-flavored convenience foods have grown 41% over the past three years. Indulgent flavors have grown at four times the rate of fruit flavors in Kellogg's Pop-Tarts in the past two years.”

When is Breakfast?

Breakfast foods and their ingredients are breaking from the traditional morning-only mold. As Antony Lagana, founder and president of Culinary Systems, comments, “Cereals are used as ingredients or enhancers—specifically as a coating. Cap'n Crunch can be used as a coating on fish and shrimp. All the different cereals make great coatings for seafood, fish, even chicken. Use them as light breadings. They have everything people are looking for—the sweetness people like, adding some savoriness to a dish and a crunch everybody likes.

“More, the ingredients of breakfast are used for lunch and dinner. Pancakes could really be exploited and moved into the dinner occasion with some unique items. Pancakes filled with smoked salmon. Pancakes with mushrooms. Things of that nature.”

Lagana has “seen grits every way you have seen mashed potatoes—grits with mushrooms, with roasted garlic, with different blends of exotic cheeses, a creamy fontina grit, the more down-home versions—grits with hot sauce, with crispy pork cracklings. I have had a grit cake, a new restaurant concept, topped with barbecued shrimp and a barbecued butter sauce.”

Grits have a generic flavor, accept flavors easily and exemplify the growing popularity of Southern cooking.

Born to Run

On-the-go and skipped meals accounted for 21% of breakfast occasions last year. The top “portable” breakfast foods:

Fruit .........................................24% Cookies/brownies .......................6% Bagels .......................................4% Sandwiches ...............................4% Ready-to-eat cereal.................... 4% Yogurt .......................................5% Breakfast snacks/bars ................6%

Source: USA Today/PF

“The term 'low country' is being thrown around now,” Lagana says, “though the populace has not picked up on it yet. In the fine dining arena, 'low country' is actually a new interpretation of old classics—with additional items and additional things incorporated from different cooking styles. Really, it is staying true to the Southern heritage, and grits become a part of that. So you are seeing grits as a garnish, even grits as an entrée.”

What does the future hold for breakfast? Lagana believes more of the same with regards to convenience foods but warns against stereotyping consumers.

“(Food companies) take an all-or-nothing approach. 'Okay, we're going after convenience,' and they forget about that other movement out there—the organic, the healthy foods. By healthy, I mean the whole foods, the holistic approach. You will see that continue to grow and play a big part in breakfast because it makes sense. Looking at grits, there is a movement of people going back to the old-style grits, the longer cooking style. You are going to see that in breakfast, as well, along with this whole-foods movement. You will see both of these (the convenience and the sweet, decadent stuff in breakfast), and then this holistic movement will happen simultaneously. The companies that pay attention to both sides will be successful, because there are enough people to go in both directions—and even some people switching back and forth.”