Brands Are Betting On Breakfast—Do Young Consumers Eat It?

Jan 13 2020

Breakfast is becoming a focus in the food industry, with new chains and new menus catering to the “most important meal”—and we know how many are Gen Z and Millennials are actually eating it…

2020 is shaping up to be a year of breakfast battles in the food industry. This year, IHOP will launch Flip’d by IHOP, a new fast-casual chain that will serve up on-the-go breakfast options like egg sandwiches, wraps, and pancake bowls (as well as lunch and dinner items) in cities across the U.S. The brand reports that consumer demand for quality, “freshly made” breakfast helped to shape the new venture, as “Today, millions of Americans are settling for sub-par breakfast foods that are either microwaved or have been sitting under a heat lamp because they’re forced to grab something while at their usual coffee spot.” The statement is a likely dig at Starbucks’ breakfast offerings, and an example of how heated the breakfast battle has already gotten.

Fast-food breakfast competition is fierce. This year, Wendy’s is also launching a breakfast menu nationwide. They’ve struggled to offer breakfast for decades and not everyone is confident it will be a success: According to CNBC, the news caused their stock to drop 10%. McDonald’s will reportedly be adding two chicken sandwiches to their breakfast menu this month, and Burger King is adding a “Criossan’wich” featuring a plant-based Impossible Foods sausage patty. Major money is being invested across the industry as chains fight to attract diners first thing in the morning.

But, how many young consumers are actually eating breakfast? Millennials have earned a reputation for being rushed and not having time for—well, literally anything. So it’s always a possibility that they would skip the meal to save time, especially as they’re rushing to get to school or work. On top of that, they’ve been a headache for the cereal industry, which has flip-flopped over healthifying their offerings or leaning into sugary nostalgia to capture them. (And might make some major changes in 2020 to win them over.)

So, do Gen Z and Millennials eat the alleged “most important” meal of the day? Well, they certainly like to post pictures of it on social media—the #breakfast hashtag currently has 90.5M posts on Instagram. (And we know that 37% of 13-36-year-olds say it’s very important that the food they buy looks good on social.) But we don’t have to rely on hashtags. YPulse’s Cooking & Diets survey asks young consumers exactly what meals they eat in a typical weekday and weekend. Here’s how many 13-36-year-olds tell us they eat breakfast:

72% of Millennials and 81% of Gen Z tell YPulse that they eat breakfast on a regular weekday—so while they’re not as likely to be eating breakfast as regularly as they are to eat lunch and dinner, it’s still the large majority of both generations that say breakfast is a part of their routine. That’s a lot of young consumers for brands to battle over. Breakfast foods also made it onto the top 20 list of young consumers’ favorite things to eat. On top of that, the percentage of over-18-year-olds who report eating breakfast has stayed steady for years, while the percentage who tell us they eat brunch on a regular weekday increased from 9% in 2017 to 15% in 2019. Meanwhile, over-18-year-olds who report having a morning snack increased from 31% in 2017 to 36% in 2019. In other words, more are eating in the morning, even if it’s not at the “traditional” breakfast time.

This shifted breakfast consumption time indicates the need for brands to not only offer breakfast, but to offer it for longer—or all day. It was young consumers’ demand that prompted McDonald’s to expand their breakfast to all day in 2015—helping them to turn around sales and their position with Millennials and Gen Z. It’s clearly not an easy feat: This year, according to Thrillist, they’ll be culling the menu items available down to what’s most popular locally. But as young consumers’ breakfast habits continue to diversify, making sure that there are options available at whatever time they do decide to eat is likely a key to success.