Breaking the fast: changing consumer habits

As the fast-paced nature of twenty-first century life continues to change breakfast from an enjoyable pastime to a chore, consumers are increasingly seeking out convenience foods. Eloise McLennan takes a look at how changing breakfast habits are creating opportunities for brands.


It may be hailed as the most important meal of the day, providing the necessary nutrients and energy to tackle important tasks, but in the rush to get ready and out of the door in the morning, many consumers struggle to find the time to prepare, sit down and eat breakfast.  

Attitudes towards breakfast habits are evolving to reflect the demands of modern lifestyles and nowadays time-conscious consumers are seeking out food options that make their morning routine easier. In the stress of the morning rush sitting down to eat a bowl of cereal and washing up the bowl can feel more like a chore than a pleasure, and a growing number of consumers are opting to eat at their desks, or on the commute into work, if at all.

With around one third of UK consumers regularly skipping breakfast according to the British Dietetic Association, convenient options such as breakfast biscuits, yoghurt and oat drinks that make it easier for consumers to satisfy hunger-pangs and provide an energy boost on the move have exploded onto the market. But as early morning eating habits evolve, how can brands address emerging trends?

Get up and go: convenient products and demanding schedules

While there are a number of influential factors that lead consumers to sacrifice their morning meal, the most common reasons given for breakfast-skipping are a lack of appetite in the morning and time-constraints. This is particularly evident in weekday markets, where early morning starts and longer working hours make spare time at home scare for consumers. Under pressure to keep to demanding schedules, many consumers opt to eat out in the morning, or look for options that can be taken out of the home.

“For younger generations, skipping breakfast is driven heavily by the need for convenient products, which can be consumed on the go,” says Canadean analyst David Harris. ”Young workers have found themselves making longer commutes and working longer hours than ever before, whilst students living alone for the first time find themselves time scarce and having to do chores they previously weren’t responsible for.”

The shift away from conventional sit-down mealtimes has opened up opportunities for breakfast brands to target consumers with products that straddle the line between breakfast and snacking. Hand-held foods, such as breakfast biscuits, cereal bars and energy bars offer an appealing alternative to sit-down breakfast foods as they can be stored and transported with little to no fuss.

While the concept is not necessarily new, breakfast biscuits have enjoyed a spike in popularity over recent years, since Mondelez International launched the Belvita range in UK back in 2010. Nutritionally the biscuits mimic the macro and micronutrient composition of traditional cereals in a time saving format, which provides consumers with a convenient way to refuel in the morning. Additionally their compact size and individual wrappers make them simple to use and store and consumers can easily put one in a bag or pocket to be eaten around their schedule.

The rise of on-the-go breakfast foods is predicted to develop as more breakfast habits evolve to suit busy lifestyles. Although breads and cereals still account for approximately 89% of the UK breakfast market, growth in the sector has been underwhelming and in contrast the cereal bars category is predicted to grow rapidly over the next few years, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.9% between 2015 and 2020 according to the Canadean report ‘Consumer and Market Insights: Bakery and Cereals in the UK’. 

Breakfast in a bottle: smoothies and juices are rising

Over recent years traditional morning favourites, such as cereal, have come under scrutiny for their high sugar content, leading health-conscious consumers to look elsewhere for nutritious breakfast options that reflect their lifestyles.

As the ‘clean-eating’ trend gained popularity amongst mainstream consumers, smoothies and juices enjoyed a spike in popularity, with ‘pulverising’ and ‘nutrient extracting’ blenders entering the market as well as influx of pop up stores that tapped into the blending movement. Unlike traditional sit-down options, the liquid breakfast format addressed a larger number of consumer requirements; combining convenience, flexibility and functionality to create ‘made-for-me’ style combinations. The myriad of ingredient combinations available both in at-home and on-the-go options also provide busy consumers with a way to obtain the necessary vitamins and minerals from a single source and brands can use the popularity of ingredients associated with health benefits to add value to products.

While the market for drinkable breakfast products in the UK is still in its infancy, the novel format has gained traction over the past few years. The unique formulation allows brands to target a number of leading food trends, including health and convenience, within a single product. As an all-in-one product that blurs the line between solid food and a drink, brands can use the health claims as a focus point to promote products as both filling and beneficial, as well as using popular ingredient trends in a variety of different combinations to widen the appeal of the product.    

“The 18-24 age group is one of the most likely to skip breakfast, but may be tempted to eat the morning meal through product formulations which excite them. A strong way to engage this age group is through novel and unusual flavours and ingredients, with 56% of this age group enjoying trying novel grocery products.”

Hot on the heels of the smoothie and juice trend, oat and wholegrain based breakfast drinks have appeared in the UK market over recent months. In 2015, Australian breakfast cereal manufacturer Sanitorium launched UP&GO breakfast drinks into the UK. UP&GO was launched in Australia 16 years ago and has since grown to be “Australia’s no.1 breakfast” according to the company. Available in six different flavours, Up&Go is claimed to contain “as much fibre, protein and calcium as your average bowl of cereal and milk.”

A new dawn: targeting weekend eaters

As breakfast habits continue to change, the demand for convenient and portable options is only set to grow. However, while consumers begin to prioritise convenience over flavour, as the trend grows new flavour combinations can help brands to establish a premium position.

While convenience is an established trend during the week, according to Canadean it is increasingly creeping into weekend eating habits, which provides new opportunities for brands to target weekend eaters. While many consumers have more free time to relax and enjoy the process of preparing breakfast at the weekend, a significant number of consumers work at the weekend and feel the pressure of time-scarcity, which fuels the demand for premium breakfast foods that cater to the convenience trend.

“Focusing purely on weekday breakfast convenience means brands risk leaving money on the table,” say Canadean analyst Safwan Kotwal, “While consumers’ timetables are arguably more flexible during the weekend, busier social lives are creating a new market for convenient, but at the same time indulgent, weekend breakfast products.”