"Breakfast rules," says Brendan Synnott.
And he should know. Synnott is co-founder and chief executive of Darien, Conn.-based Bear Naked, the fastest-growing brand in natural cereal, with two of the top-selling granolas in the country, according to San Francisco-based natural products research firm SPINS. "I think breakfast is finally starting to get appreciated," he says.
"Breakfast is definitely the most important meal," says nutritionist and author Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D. "That's why it's important that we choose the right, healthy breakfast," she says. These days, there are more natural options than ever.
In May 2005, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reviewed 47 studies conducted since 1970 and concluded that children who eat breakfast have better attendance records, grades and cognitive function. A Harvard University/Massachusetts General Hospital study (published in Pediatrics, January 1998) found that eating breakfast improved kids' psychosocial behavior. Other studies mentioned in the JADA review suggested that breakfast gives adults a boost as well, increasing endurance, strength and cognitive function. Another Harvard study found that people who eat breakfast are nearly 50 percent less likely to be obese than people who don't eat breakfast.
"Breakfast is a large and growing category," says Steve Warnert, director of sales and marketing for Amy's Kitchen. "Within the last two years we introduced two tofu breakfast meals (Tofu Scramble and Tofu Rancheros) aimed at providing vegetarian standards to busy people looking for a healthful start to their day." The company's Breakfast Burrito and Tofu Scramble Pocket Sandwich, which have been on the market for years, are now starting to be merchandised as part of "Amy's Breakfast Suite" of products.
The recent buzz around the nutritional value of whole grains, spurred in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new food pyramid, has brought new attention to old favorites. "There's nothing as 'whole grain' as granola," says Aaron Anker, marketing director at GrandyOats. "That's literally as 'whole grain' as you possibly can get. That's when you get the most nutritional value." GrandyOats' sales have gone up 60 percent this year, and "We didn't change a thing," says Anker. He says a more educated consumer, who previously might have been scared away from granola because of the fat content, now understands better the difference between good and bad fats. GrandyOats makes a low-fat granola, but the higher-fat, classic granola continues to be the company's best seller. Most recently, it's added a line of crispy granolas made with rice.
The success of granola, or other whole grains for that matter, doesn't surprise John DePaolis, head marketing guy at Country Choice. "Over the last 10 years the public has come to understand the health halo around oatmeal," says DePaolis. "More recently, that halo has expanded to whole grains." Recent high-profile marketing efforts by conventional manufacturers have only helped smaller manufacturers, he says. "It's good news because it's creating awareness for the category." Whole grains are being promoted for their fiber, vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting phytochemicals, protein, antioxidants and their potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
DePaolis says Country Choice has spent the last six to eight months focusing on hot cereals. Apparently, so have consumers. Sales of conventional hot cereals rose 16 percent in the past year while organic hot cereals sales rose by 38 percent, according to data from SPINS. Conventional cold cereal sales went up by 6 percent, while sales of organic cold cereal increased 25 percent in that same time frame.
Breakfast to go
"Unfortunately," says Warnert of Amy's Kitchen, "the breakfast 'occasion' is often experienced in the car as people commute to work … Grab-and-go is very popular today."
"One of the biggest opportunities for the organic industry is to pattern products after trends in the conventional industry because it's the mainstream consumers who are driving growth," says DePaolis. "These consumers are not willing to trade off. They want the same taste and they want the same convenience that they get with traditional foods." To meet these demands, Country Choice has introduced Oatmeal Squares in oatmeal raisin, apple cinnamon and maple.
White Wave also has added a new convenience item. "Silk Live! is a soy smoothie that offers great-tasting, on-the-go nutrition," says Doug Radi, marketing director for Silk, "and it does it with less calories, carbohydrates and sugars than most other drinkable yogurt, natural fruit smoothies and soy yogurt products." Silk Live! is available in four flavors.
Breakfast for kids
"It's tough to put a bowl of high-fiber, whole grain cereal in front of little Johnny and have him eat it with a smile on his face," says DePaolis. Country Choice has addressed kids' taste—and nutritional—demands with a new line of Fit Kids instant oatmeals that come in kid-friendly chocolate chip and cinnamon toast flavors. Other companies, like Van's, also offer kid-friendly products such as mini waffles for small hands.
Over (really) easy and a side of bacon
For the bacon-and-eggs crowd, there are new, healthier—and easier—options. Eggology has introduced Eggology On-The-Go, a single serving of egg whites. "Shake it up, stick it in the microwave for 95 seconds and it's almost like a soufflé," says Holly Zack, sales manager. The eggs scramble themselves and can be eaten straight out of the cup or put on a bagel. "It's a really easy way to get a lot of protein," she says. For people who really need a lot of protein, Eggology offers a home delivery service by the case.
For consumers looking for a healthier bacon option, Applegate Farms has expanded its line of antibiotic and nitrate-free bacon to include peppered bacon and dry-cured bacon. The company also is expanding its line of organic chicken-and-apple frozen breakfast sausages. "For a while, there was a little concern on the part of the consumer about eating things like eggs and bacon for breakfast," says Laura Kuykendall, vice president of marketing, "but now there's an increasing awareness of the value of a balanced diet and that these options are OK, and an increasing interest in finding healthier versions of these foods."
Juice and java
"A lot of people are looking for nutrients in a bottle," says Matt McLean of Clermont, Fla.-based Uncle Matt's Organic. "And there are plenty of studies about the benefits of antioxidants in orange juice, and it's obviously high in vitamin C. More and more, companies are going toward 100 percent juice," he says. "That's how we've been all along."
And for those people whose "most important meal of the day" comes in a mug, Javalution has developed "performance coffee." JavaFit Lean With Calcium and JavaFit Complete With Multivitamins provide a boost of nutrients along with caffeine. "Not everybody gets what they need from the foods they eat, and people can forget to take their supplements," says Jose Antonio, Ph.D., chief science officer for Javalution. "But you never forget to have your coffee."
Shara Rutberg is freelance writer based in Boulder, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 96-97