There have been a number of new consumer trends emerge, stemming from the increasing number of people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

Firstly, and unsurprisingly, that the number of in-home breakfasts has increased significantly by +9% year on year (+274m occasions) whilst out-of-home has decreased by -78%, -244m occasions (Kantar).

Convenience has remained a priority for many consumers over the course of the pandemic too.

Although the majority now have more time in the morning thanks to working from home and no longer need to eat breakfast ‘on the go’, 82% of all breakfasts in June were prepared in just under 10 minutes (Kantar).

“Clearly consumers are still looking for quick and convenient breakfast options, and wholesalers should use this insight to offer stock that appeals to convenience-driven consumers looking for easy, filling options to help fuel the day ahead,” comments Toby Baker, Marketing Director UK, Nestlé Cereals UK.

Additionally, another trend we’ve seen is changing consumption times. Consumers are now 38% less likely to eat breakfast before 8am (Kantar) – perhaps looking to get an extra hour in bed or fit in a quick exercise routine before starting the working day from home.

“Given the UK’s workforce has now started to return to work outside of the home – with shops and offices reopening – it will be interesting to see if this trend reverts back over time,” adds Baker. “It is likely many people in the UK will remain working from home for some time however, so it would be no surprise if later wake-ups and breakfasts are trends which continue for a while yet.”

Core, traditional brands that consumers know and love continue to come out on top. Nestlé Cereals’ Shreddies and Cheerios breakfast cereals have performed particularly well this year. “Given that Shreddies and Cheerios are two iconic family brands within the UK, it is not a surprise to see that these have remained consumer favourites throughout the lockdown period and thereafter,” says Baker.

In September Nestlé Cereals launched NAT Bears, a new breakfast cereal which comes in individually wrapped in handy kids-sized portions.

NAT Bears is made with ingredients made from natural origins, containing no artificial colours or flavours. Designed to help parents make breakfast time fun, it is available in both Honey and Chocolate flavours and has a simple 32g portion control for young children, with one bear equalling one bowl of breakfast cereal when added to milk.

NAT Bears is also high in fibre, with over 50% of whole grain in each serving and features the Nestlé Cereals green banner on pack. This signifies it contains whole grain as its number one ingredient, and that it has at least 8g of whole grain per serving. With the UK’s recommended average fibre intake for 5-11-year olds sitting at 20g per day, choosing breakfast cereals containing whole grain is an easy way to increase fibre intake.

Research shows that ready to eat cereal specifically has remained one of the most popular breakfast choices for consumers over the past few months, with it present at 47% of breakfast occasions (8.7 billion occasions) with growth of 2.4% year on year (Kantar). “With cereal consumption growing, it’s key that wholesalers utilise this insight by prioritising stocking cereals as a breakfast option of choice,” comments Baker.

The cereal category is worth £77m in the total impulse category, up 15% year on year (Nielsen). Darryl Burgess, Head of Sales for Weetabix, comments: “Convenience stores have played an incredibly important part in people’s lives since lockdown and this boost looks likely to continue. Having a well-stocked breakfast category with all of the core and top-selling cereal brands has never been more important as people look to purchase more day-to-day items from their local stores.”

Another reason that cereals have performed well is because taste has become even more important to consumers during lockdown, sometimes becoming the #1 purchase consideration (Dipsticks).

“As a result, we have seen demand for healthier products, whether that’s low sugar or high fibre, fall since March, with comfort eating understandably prevailing,” says Burgess. “As lockdown eases, we predict dietary concerns will again return to the table.”

Weetabix has invested a significant amount in researching the breakfast opportunity during the lockdown period. Breakfasts at home have clearly become the norm during this period – 98% of breakfasts are now in the home (Dipsticks) and cereal has been the real winner, firmly establishing itself as the breakfast product of choice, while other categories have remained flat.

“People have had more time in the mornings to create a more unique breakfast, but consumers are still looking for a convenient starting point, which is why cereal has been so popular,” adds Burgess.

Cereal brands have done really well during this period suggesting people were looking for familiar products during a period of uncertainty. Weetabix Original has performed well (+1.8m year-on-year (Nielsen) and sales for Weetabix Minis Chocolate have risen 44% (Kantar).

“Even with lockdown easing, people’s work routines have changed, and more people are expecting to spend more time at home – as a result we do expect cereal sales to remain strong in the months ahead,” Burgess continues.

Consumers have returned to cereal because of its versatility – it’s quick and convenient but can also be personalised with additional toppings and different milks, which taps into the trend for personalised breakfasts. That’s why Weetabix is giving its Any-Which-Way-A-Bix campaign a boost, as part of an £11m marketing investment.

Younger people have also returned to the breakfast table, with a 2.8% increase in cereal consumption compared to 2019 (Dipsticks) – a recent study has found that younger people have found the lockdown has helped them reconnect with their family as they cook and enjoy more mealtimes together – and that they wish to continue this going forward.

Paulina Gorska, Marketing Manager, Lantmännen Unibake UK, comments: ”Brunch continues to bring big opportunities to the retail sector, its versatility in terms of both type of dish and consumption hours means that it appeals to younger consumers. These consumers are seeking ever more variety and quality in their food and are increasingly moving away from the traditional three meals a day.”

Brunch is now much more than a meal consumed between or instead of breakfast and lunch, with part of its appeal being that it offers an “any meal, any time of day” approach.

“Wholesalers can look to maximise the opportunity by offering a range of ready to serve sweet and savoury products such as viennoiserie, Danish pastries and savoury pastries for retailers to sell throughout the day,” suggests Gorska.

Viennoiserie remains popular and increasingly retailers are allocating more space to the product as the category continues to innovate and bring fresh NPD and pack formats to the market. 84% of retailers that sell sweet bakery goods agree that Croissants and Danish Pastries are crucial in driving sales, meaning they are a must stock for wholesalers to remain competitive (Sweet Treats).

“Wholesalers should ensure they stock the UK’s best sellers in both Danish and French pastry,” says Gorska.

The top three selling Danish Pastry SKUs deliver 62% of the total category value sales (IRI). The Schulstad Bakery Solutions Maple Pecan Plait, Cinnamon Swirl and Vanilla Creme Crown are the top-sellers in the Danish pastry range and must-stock French pastries include the All Butter Croissant, Pain au Chocolat and Pain aux Raisins.

Charlotte Hulbert, Sales Manager, Brioche Pasquier, comments: “With meal times becoming increasingly flexible, the breakfast occasion provides retailers and foodservice outlets a considerable sales opportunity.

However, this does not necessarily mean breakfast in the early morning. A breakfast offering needs to be versatile and provide tempting options all morning through to lunch, to catch all types of customers, from those looking for a grab and go option, to others who want a bite or a snack in their coffee break.”

Our diets are changing and at a pace. The healthier eating message is getting through to many. We are becoming much more aware of where our food is coming from, how it is grown and made, and whether it is good for our bodies and the environment.

“Canny operators therefore need to cater to the different types of consumer, taking into account diet preferences and lifestyle choices,” says Hulbert.

With breakfast becoming more of a statement for some consumers, particularly at the weekend, there is a growing trend for healthier breakfasts. Fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms and avocado play a big part in this, and while there are still consumers who long for the indulgence of a full English, many are looking for a more modern alternative including vegan and vegetarian options.

With the growing trend for cleaner, healthier eating there is greater demand for products that are free from preservatives, artificial flavours and hydrogenated fats.

“When it comes to bakery, consumers want to know that the products they enjoy are made from high quality, wholesome ingredients and are baked to traditional recipes, like those supplied by Brioche Pasquier,” adds Hulbert.

Brioche Pasquier’s Brioche Rolls are versatile and are ideal for breakfast as they can combine with savoury or sweet flavours.

In the breakfast market, Brioche Pasquier is also known for its Croissants and Pains au Chocolat. The brand’s individually wrapped indulgent Pains au Chocolat come in long lasting packs of six. This makes them perfect for a take away breakfast to be popped in a bag or pocket to eat on- the- go.

Brioche Pasquier’s unique starter dough known as ‘levain’ gives the products their trademark taste and longevity without the need for preservatives. This longevity is a boon for wholesalers, retailers and consumers alike as it means that the products stay fresh on the shelves for up to 21 days, thus reducing waste and prolonging usability.

The ‘clean’ nature of the recipes with no preservatives, artificial flavours or hydrogenated fats is also emphasised on the new packaging, so that consumers will know they are buying a wholesome product.

Catherine Lloyd, Marketing Director Upfield, UK & Ireland, comments: “As a result of spending more time at home during the lockdown period, many consumers have had more time to prepare healthy and nutritious yet affordable meals to start their days. Breakfast enthusiasts have had more time to enjoy their favourite morning meal, and for those previously too short on time for breakfast, they have been flexing their prowess in the kitchen, from preparing gourmet omelettes to baking homemade sourdough bread, topped with a delicious spread of margarine.”

In terms of trends, the popularity of plant-based foods remains at an all-time high and we have seen this have a big impact on consumer breakfast choices. Recent research from Flora margarine revealed that in lockdown, 50% of consumers switched to more plant-based items in order to be healthier, 32% to boost their immune system and 27% to save money. Additionally, the research revealed that when it comes to eating out, 12% missed their on-the-go breakfast the most.

Products such as Flora margarine which offers nutritional benefits, containing omega 3 and 6, continue to perform strongly as consumers take necessary steps to look after their health at breakfast time. This is in addition to a growing appetite among consumers for margarine, as they understand the reduced impact diary alternatives can have on the environment and the long-term health benefits that they can offer. Recently, Flora margarine’s research revealed that 35% of consumers opted for healthy plant-based margarines like Flora over butter. It is a perfectly versatile ingredient for breakfasts at home – from spreading on toast, to making scrambled eggs or pancakes. It is also nutritious for the whole family as it is naturally rich in omega 3 and 6.

Nonetheless, as Flora’s research found that the average cost of consumers’ weekly shop increased by 8% since the beginning of lockdown, the brand expects that value, in addition to health, will continue to be critical in consumers’ purchasing decisions on breakfast products.

“There has been increased demand across our entire portfolio during the lockdown period, and we have experienced strong growth in sales,” comments Lloyd. “We believe that breakfasts have played a role in this sales increase. With many consumers now eating all three meals at home, and since sales of bread have risen, shoppers are eating more spreads and plant-based margarines, such as Flora.”

We are seeing great demand for sustainable diets – recently published research (2020 Journal of Life Cycle Assessment) shows that on average Upfield plant-based margarines and spreads have a 70% lower climate impact, occupy two thirds less land and use less than half the water than the same amount of dairy butter.

Consumers are increasingly looking for choice and great tasting products that are versatile across cooking, baking and spreading occasions.

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