Families no longer are sitting at the kitchen table while Mom prepares a large breakfast of eggs, pancakes and bacon. A more likely scenario includes grabbing a quick breakfast cereal bar on the school bus, or eating a toaster waffle in the car on the way to work. The amount of time spent on food preparation in the kitchen is decreasing, and breakfast seems to have lost out as the meal to get the family together.

How can families save time and still get a great start at breakfast? The products to fill this need must be convenient to prepare and easily consumed, even on the go. Convenience may mean a product as simple as cereal and milk (one that children can assemble themselves), and it should also be an option that provides a healthy start to the day. Cereal is now available in a portable, all-in-one package, making it a convenient on-the-go food choice for breakfast or as a snack. Better yet, General Mills (Minneapolis) offers a Milk n' Cereal Bar, with all the goodness of a bowl of cereal with milk, but it is much easier to eat in the car! Craving a hot breakfast that is portable? Try Quaker's[r] (Chicago) Oatmeal Express—just add hot water and a hot breakfast is ready in minutes.

The saturated cereal market must continually change and develop new, innovative products to catch the consumer's eye. Some of the newer products on the market include Kellogg's[r] (Battle Creek, Mich.) Special K Red Berries[r] and General Mills' Berry Burst Cheerios[r]; both products include dehydrated berries that are unique and offer a new twist on a familiar favorite. Pop Tarts[r] (Kellogg's) has new products to keep innovation associated with the Kellogg's name. French Toast Pop Tarts are a new variety, with a cinnamon-sugar topping instead of the usual frosting. Don't forget popular cartoon characters. SpongeBob SquarePants Pop Tarts[r] anyone?

Women and Children First

The two largest marketing targets for breakfast items are women and children. Marketing to women usually includes an element of weight control and improving health by making smart breakfast choices. Kids are targeted by featuring easily recognizable characters on the cereal boxes, such as Winnie-the-Pooh, Mickey Mouse, and movie characters like Spider-Man[tm]. Colorful marshmallows or cereal pieces add to the allure, but most of the effort is focused on the packaging.

Healthy connotations abound when marketing to women. Breakfast options are presented as wholesome, nutritious and vitamin-packed: “Take the Special K[r] challenge: eat Special K and lose up to six pounds in two weeks,” or “Eat Cheerios[r] as a way to reduce cholesterol!” Post[r] (Kraft, Northfield, Ill.) Healthy Classics[r] are promoted as being rich in whole grains and dietary fiber, and low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Kashi's (Kellogg's) Go Lean line features naturally sweetened cereals that are low in fat and high in fiber and protein. All of these products are marketed towards consumers that are more aware of nutrition and healthful ingredients in packaged foods.

Traditional breakfast items that usually are perceived as high in fat and calories also have been redesigned. Nutri-Grain[r] (General Mills, Minneapolis) Muffin Bars take an indulgent item (muffins) and add a healthy connotation by marketing the bars under the Nutri-Grain name and reducing the fat content. Krave[r] is a bar positioned as a wholesome snack full of vitamins, all in a portable bar that can be eaten on the go, for breakfast or as a snack. Breakfast items can go beyond a bar or cereal. For example, Snapple-A-Day[r] (White Plains, N.Y.) is a “meal replacement” drink. Quaker's[r] Nutrition for Women oatmeal increased its calcium content to 50% of the RDA, and added iron and vitamins D and E. Many products now are positioned as snack items, as well as a breakfast option. By creating products in smaller sizes, new breakfast products not only transcend the breakfast category into snacking, but also become sharable. Items such as Pop Tart Snak-Stix[tm], Pillsbury[r] (General Mills) Waffle Sticks, and Nutri-Grain Snack Bites are a few examples of such products.

Low-carbohydrate diets also have affected the breakfast segment; General Mills is introducing Yoplait[r] Ultra[tm], a low-carbohydrate yogurt. On the cereal shelves, Kellogg's Special K Low Carb and General Mills Total Protein are two of many low-carbohydrate offerings. Other health-related concerns are focusing on reducing trans-fats, introducing organic ingredients and the healthful benefits of nutraceutical ingredients. Kellogg's Smart Start[r] Soy Protein or Antioxidants are two cereals marketed in this manner, focusing on the health benefits of soy and antioxidants.

What about a good hot breakfast? With people spending less time in the kitchen and skipping breakfast more than ever, can a hot breakfast be fast, convenient and portable? The answer is a resounding yes. Egg and biscuit sandwiches are everywhere in the breakfast freezer section, as are items with the beginnings of an ethnic flair such as Market Day's[r] (Itasca, Ill.) Breakfast Quesadillas, or Ruiz'[r] (Dinuba, Calif.) Cheesy Sausage and Egg Soft Tacos.

One of the largest success stories has been with pre-cooked bacon. Pre-cooked bacon offers consistency, less mess and a longer shelflife than traditional bacon. Line extensions include flavors such as barbecued and peppered bacon.

New re-closeable packaging is offering even more convenience to consumers for pre-cooked breakfast meats. Uncle Ben's[r] Breakfast Bowls is a line of breakfast items in one convenient, portable bowl that takes minutes to heat in the microwave. With flavors like peach and maple pecan pancakes, they are not the typical pancakes. Waffles also are moving along in new directions. Pillsbury offers Waffle Sticks with Dippin' Cups as a way to make waffles a little more fun for kids (and adults!). Another hot breakfast option from Pillsbury is Toaster Scrambles[r], a handheld pocket with a flaky crust and a savory filling that can be heated in a toaster. How about combining the traditional cereal with waffles, to create Froot Loops[r] Eggo[r] Waffles? Quaker Fruit & Oatmeal Toastables offer oatmeal baked into a crust, with a fruit filling and icing. The choices are endless, and the variety is extensive.

Consumers are demanding great taste, but they are not willing to sacrifice flavor entirely for convenience. For many, having a healthier option for breakfast is a concern, and these needs only will increase as consumers have less time to prepare and eat breakfast, and grow more aware of the health benefits of many ingredients found in these foods.

The Return of Breakfast

For many, the speed of life meant the end of breakfast. Catching on, food manufacturers began making convenient, portable foods, such as instant oatmeal in a cup or a breakfast bar that could be eaten on-the-go. However, people once again crave the hot foods breakfast offers, and they are being served oldies with a twist.

For example, McDonald's (Oak Brook, Ill.) is offering McGriddle sandwiches, a pancake-type of bun with sausages or eggs and maple syrup on the inside. It's like traditional pancakes, sausages and eggs, only a bit updated and more portable.

Diners also want to experience food that truly is good-tasting. After traveling the low-fat and low-sugar routes, the Panera Bread (Richmond Heights, Mo.) chain is returning to full-fat, indulgent pastries. For instance, its cinnamon toast crunch bagel is very sweet and satisfying, definitely not for everyday consumption.

Pairing differing flavors, such as savory with sweet flavors, also is new. For example, an apricot-jalapeño breakfast bread is a tasty, yet unusual combination. Another item is the chocolate chip chipotle cookie, which easily could be translated into a muffin. Taking traditional flavors such as salsa and adding chipotle is yet another example of a unique combination. Chipotle also could be added to ranch dressing for a chipotle ranch sauce, resulting in a flavor that is both ethnic and yet familiar.