Hardee's Double Sausage Egg ‘N’ Cheese Biscuit

Mark  Brandau reports at Nation’s Restaurant News that even though breakfast traffic has not fully recovered from declines brought on by high unemployment, new research shows that the morning meal is still an important daypart for restaurants.

Chicago-based research firm Mintel reported that restaurants added more than 460 new breakfast products to their menus in 2009, more than in the previous two years.

However, Mintel also found that consumers are spending less on the morning meal at restaurants. Half of consumers surveyed by Mintel last November said they spent less on restaurant breakfasts in 2009 than in 2008, while only 10 percent said they spent more. Nearly half of respondents said they don’t eat breakfast out during the week, at 47 percent, or during the weekend, at 45 percent.

A separate study by The NPD Group found that breakfast traffic fell 2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, compared with a 1-percent increase in the year-ago fourth quarter. Traffic at breakfast fared better than at other dayparts, the Port Washington, N.Y.-based firm found, as lunch traffic fell 3 percent and dinner traffic declined 4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Falling sales and traffic haven’t dissuaded restaurants from introducing new items for breakfast, however.

“We see an increasingly competitive market for restaurant breakfast, even though sales have declined,” said Eric Giandelone, director of research for Mintel Foodservice. “Restaurants are refreshing their breakfast menus, but I believe reduced consumer spending, as well as relatively high unemployment, will limit sales growth over the year.”

Sales of breakfast and brunch decreased 3.4 percent from 2007 to 2009, Mintel said. The firm projected that morning daypart sales would grow modestly through the end of 2011, but would pick up significantly after that, resulting in a 13-percent growth from 2009 to 2014.

“To overcome contracting sales, restaurant operators need to be keenly aware of what drives people into restaurants for breakfast,” Giandelone said, adding that survey respondents said they are seeking convenience and low prices during the weekday rush and menu variety and high-quality food while having breakfast or brunch on the weekends.

Already in 2010, quick-service heavyweights like McDonald’s and Hardee’s have rolled out new items in the morning, including the test of oatmeal for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s and the introduction of the Double Sausage Egg ‘N’ Cheese Biscuit at St. Louis-based Hardee’s. Late last year, McDonald’s debuted its Breakfast Dollar Menu, comprising six items.

Coffee will be another area where restaurants will target improvement, as McDonald’s tests expanded items for its premium McCafe line of coffee and Miami-based Burger King upgrades its BK Joe coffee to Seattle’s Best.

Mintel said offering breakfast beyond morning hours could be a boon to restaurants, as the most popular suggestion survey respondents had for restaurants was all-day breakfast. Thirty-six percent of participants called for all-day breakfast on weekdays, while 38 percent wanted all-day breakfast on the weekend. Another 32 percent of respondents said they would like to see more breakfast value meals in restaurants.

Read more: Nation’s Restaurant News