Breakfast: Over Easy

Are convenience stores giving up on breakfast?

By  Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Content Development Coordinator
Abbey Lewis, Executive Editor

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The Coffee Key

Of all the weapons in a c-store’s breakfast arsenal, coffee is the most compelling. Ninety percent of people who say they’re coffee drinkers do so in the breakfast time frame, according to the Packaged Facts report. Work plays a role as well. Sixty percent of coffee drinkers make time for their morning cup before getting to work, so convenience, coffee quality and price are important.

The report singles out c-store chains such as Dallas-based 7-Eleven and Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. as companies focused on “increasing flavor and flavor combination variety.” The report also tossed in Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks,  Burger King, Denny’s and Bob Evans as notable participants in this trend.

Consider coffee, then, as the portal. Reel them in with a fresh, quality cup of joe and then surprise them with a unique breakfast experience. In this build-it-and-they-will-come scenario, a good coffee program is the lure of a greater breakfast program. Even McDonald’s attempted as much with its own higher-quality coffee line and McCafé offering. To better compete with breakfast up-and-comers and coffee gurus Starbucks, the Golden Arches are continuing to push a “gold-standard cup of coffee with every visit,” according to a McDonald’s year-end memo.

Bottom line: You can’t win the breakfast game without a good cup of coffee. And breakfast isn’t only about coffee.

That’s McDonald’s thinking, as it places all of its eggs in that caffeinated basket, and with it all its hopes of retaining its top spot in the quick-serve breakfast game. Through its new ad campaign, “Make the most of breakfast with McCafé,” the chain is working to bolster its “coffee-driven visits,” according to the memo, and further brand its coffee program, as well as its branded burgers and fries.

The Little Things

Breakfast appears to be a moving target. For instance, the Packaged Facts report says weekday traffic accounts for a majority of the retail breakfast business. The last time respondents got breakfast or a breakfast snack from a foodservice establishment, 69% went during the week.

But retailers are finding those tendencies in flux, with many responding by offering breakfast and brunch-style foods later in the day or late at night, both during the week and on weekends.  The report says nearly half (48%) of customers strongly agreed that they have breakfast at non-traditional times. Going further, the Technomic report said 56% of consumers at least somewhat agree—29% strongly agree—that they tend to eat different things for a late breakfast than they do for an early one.

So it’s the nuances that may make or break a program. “The c-store’s core strength is attracting the shopper,” says Wright of The Hartman Group. “But they are still working through becoming relevant with certain segments, like women and millennials.”

Such shoppers are interested in safe, clean, well-lighted stores, but they’re also interested in a broad range of foods, Wright says. They—especially millennials— have what he calls a “global” taste that’s both ethnic and traditional. “They have a broad palate and a natural expectation for quality,” Wright says.

Clearly, the brand-name, regional stalwarts of the industry are embracing the challenge, but Wright believes the breadth of the channel, with 150,000 convenient locations, can become a major force.

“C-stores are a part of how consumers move through their days,” he says. “It’s relevant to stop for gasoline or come in at lunch for a beverage. But this notion of how c-stores are going to move forward with fresh and prepared food [at breakfast]— it’s in the early days.”

Gerosa believes that a segment of the industry does have the potential of taking on breakfast. At a particularly high-volume store he recently worked on, a tortilla-making machine significantly improved productivity, so even small operations can become major forces.

“In smaller towns, mom-and-pops are more keen to variety vs. a QSR,” Gerosa says. “We can think out of the box, where [some QSRs] are under a structure that [items] need to be made one way.”

And for larger chains that “get it,” the customer has spoken. “Our industry has to embrace ‘fresh,’ ” says Nice N Easy’s Cushman. “We cannot ignore what the customer wants, and ‘fresh’ is loud and clear.”

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