By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor
Breakfast is the only restaurant daypart with sustained visit growth over the last several years, said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group market research.
According to the company’s research, breakfast/morning meal visits grew by 5% in the year ending June 2015 over the same period last year when visits grew by 2%. Convenience stores hold the highest share of visits in this category when compared with other foodservice outlets including quick-service restaurants (QSRs).
The most food-forward c-store chains that are offering more variety and high quality are also attracting customers beyond the traditional blue collar males ages 18-50, including women and Millennials, Riggs noted.
“These customers are looking for real food, which to them means fresh ingredients freshly prepared,” Riggs said. “For them, something sitting under a heat lamp is not going to cut it.”
MADE TO ORDER
In its 11 stores with cafes, Clark’s Pump ‘N Shop, which has locations in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Florida, made-to-order breakfast items include omelets, biscuits with gravy and chicken tender sandwiches—the company partners with Krispy Krunchy Chicken. The diverse menu also includes pancakes on a stick, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, and egg and meat sandwiches on biscuits, toast or buns.
One of the most popular selections at Clark’s is a platter featuring two eggs, a choice of meat and a biscuit or toast. Biscuits are baked on site. Because the c-store uses real eggs instead of processed ones, they can be made any way the customer likes them.
Breakfast accounts for a full half of Clark’s foodservice sales, said Brian Unrue, the company’s director of operations. The program continues to grow.
In the beginning, Clark’s struggled with food margins and labor costs in its stores with such cafes.
“Now we’ve been able to get our cost of goods a lot lower without sacrificing quality and we’re hitting our margins,” Unrue said. “As far as labor, we have a strong crew and very little turnover, so we’re hitting the mark there as well.”
At first, the early menus at the café were so lengthy that they became unwieldly, he said. Now the company builds its breakfast menu on 10 basic items.
Unrue said that the plated breakfasts in the cafes sell very well.
“The quality of our food is much better than any quick-service restaurant and our price point is where it needs to be,” he said. “We don’t even consider the quick-service restaurants as our competition.”
At Clark’s, breakfast starts at 5 a.m. and is available all day. Digital menu boards in the stores and its Website promote breakfast offerings.
While breakfast egg and meat sandwiches are the top sellers at Quik Shoppe Food Stores’ seven stores in North Carolina, custom-made breakfast plates with fresh eggs and choice of breakfast meats are also very popular, said Bobby Spivey, company president. The stores have been selling these plated breakfasts since 1982. A favorite is the Hungry Man Platter, comprised of three eggs, two meats, either grits or hash browns and toast or a biscuit.
Also doing well is the breakfast bowl, a casserole of scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, cheese, onions, peppers and gravy. Two years ago, Quik Shoppe introduced a burrito, a 12-inch tortilla filled with three eggs and one meat. It quickly gained a following. The tortillas can be made to order and are also available for grab and go.
Customers can choose from 10 or 11 meats, including some unusual ones such as bologna. “We sell a lot of that here,” Spivey said. Two types of ham are offered, and at some of the stores, pork tenderloin. Another regional item, liver mush, is also featured on the menu.
“You won’t find most of those items on any quick-service menu,” Spivey said. “At best, you’ll get a choice of 4-5 meats.”
Portion size also differentiates Quik Shoppe from QSRs.
“The size of our serving of bologna is 4-5 ounces, while, if you can even get it at a quick-service restaurant, the serving is only two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half ounces,” Spivey said. “We know our customers are working people and we want to give them the best value for their money.”
Breakfast at the Quik Shoppe stores accounts for between 40-85% of foodservice sales. At most of the stores breakfast is served beginning at 5 a.m. and is available until 11 a.m.
Customers like to build their own breakfast sandwiches, said D.W. Dye, Quik Shoppe’s foodservice director. Every addition to the basic egg and meat is charged separately.
“Many people just like to add cheese, but there are some who want two meats or a fully loaded sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onion and jalapeños,” Dye said. “Since we charge for each addition, a basic $2.79-$3.09 sandwich could turn into a $5 or even $7 sandwich. Our customers are happy because they’re getting exactly what they want.”
Although most customers prefer to customize their food, basic sandwiches are also available for grab and go. In some stores, hot wings, spicy chicken sandwiches and grilled chicken sandwiches are also on the breakfast menu.
Every month the stores offer two breakfast special promotions. One is usually a sandwich and the other a platter or burrito. One recent special featured a buy one get a second for $1 on the bologna sandwich. Another one took $1 off the price of a Hungry Man Platter.
Each year, the breakfast business at Quik Shoppe continues to grow, Spivey said. “Every year we say, ‘Wow, how could we possibly do more business than we’re already doing?’ Then we always do.”
LIGHT OR HEARTY
At the 15 Pilot Flying J stores that feature the PJ Fresh Marketplace foodservice concept, breakfast is a big deal. Customers ranging from professional drivers to casual motorists can sit down and relax over a hearty meal or they can grab a quick meal to go.
Breakfast items include platters of scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage, home fries and biscuit; biscuits and gravy; steel-cut oatmeal; and egg, meat and cheese sandwiches, “all of which are prepared fresh in-store with ingredients sourced from local foodservice distribution,” said Laura Palenkas, vice president of marketing and merchandising for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based company.
“The platters made their debut in 2013 at the Pilot Travel Center in St. Marys, Ga., the first store to feature the PJ Fresh Marketplace concept,” Palenkas said. “We now have 15 stores that feature the PJ Fresh Marketplace with extended menu items, seating and more, but all of our new locations will carry the PJ Fresh brand of fresh, high-quality food items.”
Sandwiches can be made on biscuits, French toast or maple griddlecakes. Breakfast burritos with sausage or bacon, egg and potato are also available. In one store in Cotulla, Texas, made-to-order breakfast tacos, a regional favorite, are on the menu.
LTOs are also featured including an Angus steak, egg and cheese bagel which was added to the menu Dec. 1.
Pilot Flying J promotes its breakfasts through in-store signage and its MyRewards loyalty program. The stores also bundle breakfast items with juices and coffee.