THE RETURN OF EGGO

With Eggo’s waffle production problems behind it, frozen breakfasts scored gains in dollars, units and volume in supermarkets during the 12 weeks ended Oct. 3, according to SymphonyIRI Group, the Chicagobased market research firm.

The total category, which includes waffles, breakfast entrees, handheld breakfast entrees, “other” breakfast foods, bagels, muffins and egg substitutes, rose 3.5% to $357.1 million during the 12 weeks.

Compare that to the 12 weeks ended Jan. 24 this year, when category sales were off by 4.5% to $335.1 million. Waffles, dominated by Eggo, were down 20% back then, to $102.7 million. In the latest period, waffles were still down — by 1.0% — but dollars from Eggo were $25.2 million higher. Clearly, the impact on the entire category has been substantial.

Breakfast handheld entrees (up 16.5%) and breakfast entrees (up 6.1) also helped spark category increases. The relatively small muffin subcategory jumped 36.9%, but other segments were off.

Scott Woodby, director of business development for CCF Brands (www. ccfbrands.com), Rogers, Ark., notes that “Consumers are looking for convenient and healthier options. Fast food outlets have convenience figured out but lack the healthier options consumers are looking for.”

Meanwhile, eggs remain an important part of breakfasts. Jodie Daniels, marketing director at CCF Brands, points out that “Eggs are, and will likely always be, a highly economical protein source. Driving shoppers to the egg case is always a ‘win’ — particularly specialty eggs like all-natural, Omega-3 and organic items.” Pete Bassett, national sales and marketing manager, Organic Valley (www.organicvalley.coop), La Farge, Wisc., is among several vendors who believe the breakfast category may still be undermarketed. He believes retailers would benefit by promoting breakfast meals and not just individual products.

“When you open retail ads you see big promotions for meat and vegetables. Why not play into the idea of building a meal for breakfast like you do for lunch and dinner? I think people would be interested in something akin to opening a recipe book with suggestions about what they should buy for breakfast,” he says.

Michael Gagne, head of Gagne Foods, Bath, Me., (www.gagnefoods. com) and executive chef of the fivestar Robinhood Free Meetinghouse restaurant in Maine, notes that price doesn’t always rule.

“We’re in the indulgence business and that’s what our products are all about,” he says. The company’s frozen retail line includes staples like layered cream cheese biscuits, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls and wild Maine blueberry turnovers.

“We use 75 pounds of butter for every 100 pounds of flour. It’s a very high fat ratio. But that’s what gives us the incredible flavor,” says Gagne. Three more turnovers are in development including a spicy apple, sour cherry and raspberry turnovers. Each turnover weighs about three ounces uncooked and come four to a package. The suggested retail will be between $4 and $5.

“Our goal is perceived value. You can buy twice as many of the other product for the same amount of money — but maybe you’re getting a quarter of the satisfaction,” he says.

Value as well as nutrition is the mantra of the Orchid Island Juice Company, Fort Pierce, Fla., (www. orchidislandjuice.com) , notes Marygrace Sexton, CEO.

“If you look at the state of breakfast, it could be a lot more nutritious,” she says, noting that her company is offering an increasing variety of frozen and refrigerated juices, including orange juice, grapefruit, tangerine as well as a number of different blends like grapefruit-honey and raspberry-orange.

Cale Nelson, senior director of national sales for Genesis Today, Austin, Tex. (www.genesistoday.com), manufacturer of “superfruit” juices like Acai and Goji, says his firm is working to give the breakfast category more attention via juices and other healthy beverages.

The company has three core products: Acai berry juice; cranberry Goji; and a pomegranate juice with Resveratrol, a naturally-occurring plant extract known for its ability to support a healthy cardiovascular and circulatory system. “It’s found in grapes, pomegranates and cherries. We are completely focused on the health-oriented segment of the breakfast category.”

Nelson believes that the breakfast category is headed in that direction, citing as an example the number of products that no longer include high fructose corn syrup. He adds that NuVal, the on-shelf system that scores products on their healthfulness, is also gaining popularity.

Because of people’s hectic schedules, competition from fast food restaurants is understandable, despite increased consumer interest in health. “Convenience is key and that’s why the breakfast category is suffering. I haven’t seen anyone focusing on meal solutions for breakfast, but there’s a big opportunity to do just that.”

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