Plenty Of Growing Opportunities For Produce On Breakfast Menus
By Mark Brandau, Managing Editor for Datassential
January 2020 – Even though they’re not producing the typical breakfast staples like eggs, bacon or sausage, and toast, produce growers should not lose any sleep on the morning meal.
Certain trends taking root across the foodservice industry, particularly premium toast and plant-based substitutes for meat, are creating more opportunities for produce to be a bigger part of the breakfast menu.
Fruit already is associated with the morning meal. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 consumers, Datassential found that 20% of people had fruit the last time they ate breakfast. According to Datassential’s MenuTrends database, two of the fastest-growing breakfast items on menus across the country are avocado toast and breakfast bowls.
The continuing hype around avocado toast is real. The menu penetration of that term has risen more than 2,200% over the past four years. But many other flavors also show impressive growth as ingredients with toast, according to MenuTrends data. The penetration of pickled red onion and pumpkin, for example, more than doubled over the past year.
There are more than 10 times as many mentions of the word “smashed” in menu descriptions of toast on American restaurant menus over a four-year period. While that often describes avocados, it also points to rapid growth of smashed peas and other items as popular toast spreads.
Two in five consumers reported in a survey for Datassential’s recent Breakfast Keynote Report that they’re interested in trying premium toast at breakfast. Millennials were significantly more likely to be interested (slightly more than half said they were), while Baby Boomers and older consumers were significantly less likely.
Breakfast bowls anchor the morning offerings at health-focused restaurants — and, increasingly, many mainstream midscale chains — and feature antioxidant-laden fruits like blueberries and acai berries. Over the past four years, menu penetration of acai has grown more than 250 percent on American menus.
As one would expect, fruits are also among the most menued and fastest-growing flavors on non-alcoholic beverage menus. Fruits that doubled their menu penetration (or grew even faster) over the past four years include pomegranate, lemon, raspberry, lime, blueberry and mango.
Vegetables Rise And Shine
While the meteoric rise of avocado toast is undeniable, a few other breakfast trends likely more suitable for vegetables have not gained that kind of traction, despite interest among younger consumers. When asked how interested they would be in a “breakfast version” of a typical menu offering, 40% of consumers indicated they would try a breakfast stir-fry, and 30% said the same of a breakfast salad. Those finished slightly behind results for breakfast tacos, breakfast pizzas and breakfast burgers.
Consumers’ embrace of plant-based meat alternatives, however, could be another opportunity for produce growers to increase sales in the morning. Menu penetration for vegetarian sausage slightly more than doubled over the past four years, MenuTrends found.
But breakfast sandwiches are likely the best bet for produce suppliers hoping to sell into more morning menus at U.S. restaurants. In the past four-year period, pickled red onion was the fastest-growing ingredient on breakfast sandwiches, more than quadrupling. During that same time, menu penetration more than tripled for both cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes as a breakfast sandwich ingredient.
Radish nearly tripled as a sandwich ingredient on morning menus over the past four years, and scallion also showed impressive growth in menu penetration, with a 63% gain.
Keeping Costs Under Control
The challenge to fruit and vegetable growers for selling into accounts with a breakfast focus will be on maintaining food costs. A survey of nearly 300 operators found that 60% of respondents noticed an increase this year in food costs for fresh fruit, compared with a year ago. Only breakfast meats were cited more as a leading contributor to food cost inflation.
Slightly fewer than two in five operators said food costs were rising this year for fresh vegetables and fruit juices.
But incremental sales growth alleviates cost pressures like no other, so produce suppliers should press forward and highlight how fruits and vegetables take advantage of current trends, such as plant-based eating, fancy toast spreads and the ubiquity of breakfast sandwiches.
Mark Brandau is managing editor for Datassential, a market research firm based in Chicago.
The Lasting Effect Of Avocado Toast
By Jim Prevor, Editor-In-Chief, Produce Business
The triumph of avocado toast gives hope to all in produce that dramatic increases in consumption can be realized. Unlike the rise of kale, which mostly came as a substitute for other greens such as spinach, avocado toast does not obviously replace some other produce item. And, whereas most efforts to boost consumption rely on sweet fruits, avocados are renowned for their healthy oil, so are in sync with industry efforts to promote produce as a form of healthy eating.
Yet there is also a kind of helplessness in watching the rise of avocado toast… for the truth is that industry efforts to boost consumption had little to do with this. Look at some excerpts from the Wikipedia entry on the rise of avocado toast:
In the San Francisco Bay Area, people have been eating avocado toast since at least 1885. In 1915, the California Avocado Association described serving small squares of avocado toast as an hors d’oeuvre. According to The Washington Post, it was believed that chef Bill Granger may have been the first person to put avocado toast on a modern café menu in 1993, although the dish is documented in his native Australia as early as 1929.
In 1999, Nigel Slater published a recipe for an avocado “bruschetta” in The Guardian. The journalist and editor Lauren Oyler credited Cafe Gitane with bringing the dish to the United States in its “Instagrammable” form, as it grew as a food trend. Chloe Osborne, the consulting chef at Cafe Gitane in Manhattan, who first put avocado toast on the menu, tried it herself for the first time in Queensland, Australia in the mid-1970s.
In 1962, a New York Times article showcased a “special” way to serve avocado as the filling of a toasted sandwich. In another article published in The New Yorker on May 1, 1937, titled “Avocado, or the Future of Eating,” the protagonist eats “avocado sandwich on whole wheat and a lime rickey.”
Jayne Orenstein of The Washington Post reports, “avocado toast has come to define what makes food trends this decade: It’s healthy and yet ever-so-slightly indulgent. It can be made vegan and gluten-free.” Gwyneth Paltrow has been credited to be the source of the popularization of avocado toast. She wrote in her cookbook, “truthfully this is one ‘recipe’ both Julia [co-author] and I make and eat most often. And it’s not even a recipe,” she writes. “It’s the holy trinity of [vegan mayonnaise], avocado and salt that makes this like a favorite pair of jeans — so reliable and easy and always just what you want.” With social media, the popularization of the food grew and after Paltrow’s book food bloggers recreated the dish…. Bon Appétit published a recipe for “Your New Avocado Toast” in its January 2015 issue. It followed with Meryl Streep turning onto the fruit toast on the @tasteofstreep Instagram page.
Hannah Goldfield, an author for The New Yorker, said, “according to David Sax, the most successful food trends reflect what’s going on in society at a given time. Americans wanted cupcakes ten years ago, he told Brickman, because they sought childhood comforts after the trauma of 9/11; Americans wanted fondue in the sixties because they aspired to cosmopolitanism. Artisanal toast, one might posit, represents our intensifying obsession with and fetishization of food. Every meal is special and important, every dish should be elevated, revered, and broadcast — even something as pedestrian as toast.” She argues that we are what we eat in terms of identity. “Avocado toast” — which might be described as a sub- or tangent-trend — has grown particular legs because it overlaps with another potent trend: “clean living.”
It is an incredible story, but it is not a story of brilliant produce industry marketing persuading everyone to change eating habits. It is the story of a hundred-year-old dish catching the zeitgeist of the times.
There is a lot missing here. If the law hadn’t been changed to allow Mexican avocados to be imported, there would not be this volume of avocados to eat. U.S. immigration patterns gave a critical mass to avocado consumption and led to the item being prominently featured in both retail and foodservice.
There is also pushback. Some is environmental and social: The Wild Strawberry Café in the UK got a lot of attention when it announced it was banning avocado from its menu. Its owners pointed out that as much as they loved their avocado toast, the item was no longer in line with their values: Seasonality, Food Miles and Sustainability. They raised issues of questionable provenance with reports of Mexican drug cartels profiting from the industry.
There is also a kind of rebellion against the indulgence represented by café culture: Tim Gurner, a successful property developer in Australia, was on TV and pointed out, “When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each. When I had my first business when I was 19, I was [at work] at 6 a.m. in the morning, and I finished at 10:30 at night, and I did it seven days a week, and I did it until I could afford my first home. There were no discussions about, ‘could I go out for breakfast, could I go out for dinner.’ I just worked.”
We will see what happens with avocado toast in the years to come. But one wonders whether the whole experience doesn’t teach us the importance of being in the right place at the right time. As Shakespeare wrote: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”