A lost generation: How to bring the young back to breakfast

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The hunt is on for breakfast’s lost generation: millennials. And we’ve unearthed new evidence that might help bring them back to the breakfast table. So where do these breakfast dodgers liveWhy is breakfast no longer the most important meal of the day for them? And could a new take on the humble donut strike a chord? 

The hunt is on for breakfast’s lost generation. More and more millennials are skipping what was once seen as the most important meal of the day, as we revealed earlier this month. Now we have new evidence about why breakfast is losing an entire generation of consumers and what can be done to lure them back to the breakfast table.

Video: How to lure back breakfast’s lost generation

Small wonder sales of breakfast cereals have gone soggy, given how consumer behaviour is changing. Brits have bought approximately 20 million (2.5%) fewer packets of ready to eat cereal in the past year as overall sales of breakfast goods have fallen 2.4% on volumes down 1.7% [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 23 April 2017]. That’s a decline of £47.1m.

Breakfast through the ages

And it’s younger consumers who are skipping breakfast most often. Forty per cent of Brits aged 25 to 34 regularly skip breakfast at least a few times a week versus 32% of the wider population, according to a Harris Interactive poll of more than 1,000 consumers for The Grocer. This age group is also far more likely to agree that breakfast’s importance is over rated (see above).

That’s not all. “The 25 to 35-year-old age group are least likely to eat breakfast at home every day,” says Lucia Juliano, head of research at Harris Interactive. “Instead we find that over a quarter of this group are eating breakfast on the go at least a few times a week, and over a third (37%) are eating it at their desks at least a few times a week, a much higher frequency than among other age groups.”

There are a number of factors at play here, of course. Traditional breakfast cereals are in decline partly because more people are eating their breakfast on the go or at their desks. But that’s not the only reason, says Kantar analyst Isabel Zakers. “Fewer younger shoppers are buying cereal, which is traditionally sweet and high in sugar; more are buying gluten-free cereal,” she says.

“This aligns with wider trends we are observing among consumers; they’re becoming more concerned with their breakfast being less processed and more natural. As we’ve seen shoppers become more concerned about health and sugar content in food, granola is one area of cereal growing strongly. Most significantly, there has been 11% growth in under 28 year old shoppers.”

“Consumers are becoming more concerned with their breakfast being less processed and more natural. As we’ve seen shoppers become more concerned about health and sugar, granola is one area of cereal growing strongly”

So there are still ways to entice this age group back to breakfast table. Our research reveals that millennials are more likely to eat cooked breakfasts at least once a week than the rest of us (43% versus 31%), suggesting that when they do have time to eat breakfast at home, they’re more likely to treat themselves.

Nevertheless, on the go is the biggest opportunity, says Juliano. “Despite a tendency to eat breakfast on the go, 25-34 year olds still want a lot from their breakfasts; 72% agree that it’s important to get lots of fibre at breakfast, and more than half say it’s important to get a lot of protein and carbs (56% and 52% respectively),” she says.

Fifty-four per cent of this age group also agree with the statement that probiotics should be eaten as part of a healthy breakfast. And all this got us thinking. Is there a gap in the market for a healthy, on the go breakfast option that could help support a healthy digestive system and appeal to the segment of society most likely to skip breakfast?

Creative marketing agency Life certainly thinks so. Step forward, Sour Donuts…

Food for thought: Could donuts lure back breakfast’s lost generation? 

Fermented food is making a comeback. Young, hip Brits are eating up advice from nutritionists who say fermented foods support a healthy digestive system, and tucking into products such as Korean fermented cabbage dish kimchee and the fermented milk drink kefir. Granted, such products aren’t to everyone’s taste, but there’s another that has universal appeal: donuts.

So what if you could combine the benefits of fermentation with a donut?


That’s exactly what Life strategy director James Graemer has done with this new breakfast concept, after we challenged the creative marketing agency to come up with an on the go option that would appeal to young consumers looking for a more convenient, unusual and healthy food to kickstart the day with.

“Young people are looking for products that are not just going to be the norm; they’re more likely to be looking for functional foods and even if it’s just a token health benefit at the start of the day, that’s a really good reason to buy into a product,” he says.

“You wouldn’t have the same thing for dinner every night but at breakfast you might. We wanted a product that could have a simple consistent base to it but have an element of customisation and flexibility to appeal to different moods.”

That’s where Sour Donuts come in. The neutral sourdough donut base is versatile enough to take a wealth of on-trend, fermented spreads and superfood toppings including kefir, granola and sunflower seeds – which come in easily portable, stackable packaging and can be endlessly customised to suit changing tastes.

“You’re often more willing to try something if there’s a degree of familiarity with it. Everybody knows what a donut is but even though we’re flipping it on its head and changing it to be healthier, the barrier to entry is far lower.”

Junior designer Julia Darze adds: “There’s a huge trend now in reinventing unhealthy things to make them healthier, things like cauliflower pizza bases and avocado chocolate mousse. With this, it’s the element of surprise. You always think of donuts as an unhealthy treat but now you can have one for breakfast and it’s as good as a bowl of porridge.”

How Britain breakfasts

No prizes for guessing where breakfast products such as Sour Donuts might find a market. “We see a tendency among Londoners to eat breakfast either on the go or at their desks,” says Harris Interactive’s Juliano. “People living in London are also far more likely to regularly skip breakfast (see above). Londoners and 25-34s don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast.

“With more and more options available for breakfast on the go, this is becoming a much easier and more convenient choice. Breakfast brands can capitalise on this through the provision of convenience breakfasts like breakfast biscuits and drinks, which are already popular among Londoners and 25-34 year olds.”

“We’re trying to recapture that lost generation of cereal eaters. The breakfast occasion has changed so much over the last ­ five to 10 years and the opportunity is massive. Convenience is driving that, and consumers are being very specific about what they want and what they’re not willing to trade on – taste and nutrition.”

Indeed, Weetabix says breakfast drinks are a key way of engaging with breakfast’s missing demographic, pointing to the growing number of drinkable offerings winning shelf space. The brand’s On The Go range of drinks contributed £15.3m to Weetabix’s overall £164.5m value in our 2017 Britain’s Biggest Brands report [Nielsen 52 w/e 31 December 2017], having surged 66.5%.

“We’re trying to recapture that lost generation of cereal eaters,” says head of brand Gavin Loftus. “The breakfast occasion has changed so much over the last ­ five to 10 years and the opportunity is massive. Convenience is driving that, and consumers being very specific about what they want and what they’re not willing to trade on – taste and nutrition.”

They’ve already launched a protein-fortified drink to appeal to health-conscious consumers. Is it now time for a fermented version, perhaps with a donut to dunk in it?

With thanks to…

Life is an award-winning, full-service creative marketing agency. It came up with the SourDonuts concept for us for this feature. 

Harris Interactive, a full-service digital consultative custom market research agency, polled more than 1,000 consumers for The Grocer for this article. 

With its 30,000-strong consumer panel, Kantar Worldpanel is a leading consumer and shopper insights provider. Kantar provided sales and usage data and analysis for this article.

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