Interview by Amy Bostock
Amy Bostock: How has the breakfast daypart performed in general since COVID-19 rocked the industry in March?
Vince Sgabellone: Morning-meal traffic has been heavily impacted since March by the change in our daily routines. According to The NPD Group/CREST, for the nine months ending November 2020, breakfast visits were down by more than 25 per cent compared to the same time a year ago. Morning meal remains as the largest daypart however, because the lunch daypart has declined by even more.
AB: Which segments were hardest hit?
VS: The full-service restaurant (FSR) segment has been the hardest hit at morning meal. With the restrictions to indoor dining, along with the change in our morning routines, people simply are not dining out for breakfast like they used to. And thus, traditional plated breakfast items are giving way to handheld breakfast solutions. Plus, I just don’t think a traditional breakfast meal will travel well for take-out or delivery, even if consumers did want to order them.
AB: What are the top trends you’re seeing in breakfast offerings as operators pivot to the new normal?
VS: I haven’t seen a lot of shifting on either the operator or consumer level. The mix of products consumed at breakfast has not changed substantially. The big change on this consumer side has been the shift from FSR sit-down breakfast items such as eggs/bacon/toast to breakfast sandwiches. On the operator side, some operators have adjusted their menus to help with operational efficiencies, especially around drive thru and delivery. But the changes do not appear to be widespread, and are certainly not focused on the breakfast menu.
AB: How have coffee sales been impacted?
VS: Coffee volumes have declined by about as much as morning-meal traffic. With so many of us working from home now, it just isn’t as easy to grab a coffee as it used to be. However, I have read stories about the ‘fake commute’ wherein people get in their car and ‘drive to work’ in the morning, pick up their coffee, and return home to start their work day. We also saw a little boost in morning traffic and coffee performance during the September back-to-school season. This confirms that we do like our routines and will likely go back to them once we are able.
But, our Retail Tracking Services team here at NPD reports that coffee-maker sales are skyrocketing this year, [which will likely have an impact] on our out-of-home coffee consumption, even when we are able to return to work.
AB: Any insight into what will replace the breakfast buffet in a post-pandemic industry?
VS: In my own personal experience, while staying at a hotel that would normally have offered a buffet, they reverted to a sit-down breakfast menu. It wasn’t all-you-can eat, but it was included in the room rate just like the buffet used to be. I suspect this is the way that restaurants with table-service infrastructure will follow. Others will likely go with pre-packaged individual items. This is what I have witnessed in the retail grocery channel for example, where their usual self-serve counters are now all pre-packaged. But over time, when customer traffic returns and fears of the virus have passed, I expect the old buffet model will return. People and restaurateurs enjoy this model too much to let it go away permanently.