Around 850 million breakfasts have gone missing in four years, and the hunt is on to find them again.

Breakfast food manufacturers are conscious that busier lives mean that breakfast is often skipped, and desk eating, and car and train snacking, have taken the place of the family sitting around a table together.

TNS research indicates that there were 18 billion breakfast occasions in the UK in 2005, but a YouGov poll revealed that more

than half of mums with

pre-school children did

not have time to eat breakfast in the morning. In

addition, only half of primary schoolchildren

and 22% of teenagers eat

a daily breakfast.

Busy, health-conscious consumers look for breakfast products that provide quick and convenient meals - and this is reflected in the rise of the Continental light breakfast, which has increased by 7% since 2002.

Eager to keep pace with consumer trends, food companies are seeking to service the fast-food market. Nestlé's flagship product in the sector is Ski Up & Go, a low-fat drinking yoghurt with fruit and cereal, which is aimed at mums who are keen to get something

nutritious inside their children before school.

Kellogg's representation in the sector is through its To Go range of cereal pots, each containing a portion of milk. The company says that cereal eaters tend to be slimmer than other people and better nourished.

As well as supporting breakfast clubs in schools, it is also targeting adults. "Our cereals are available in portion packs to make it easier for people to have cereal when they get into the office," a spokesman said.

For those who want grains in an even easier-to-handle format, companies are swelling the ranks of the burgeoning cereal bar sector. Jordans has included a bar in its newly launched Superfoods cereals range, containing the elements normally associated with muesli, while Weetabix's Alpen Light cereal bars are aimed at the same young adult, largely female market.

Weetabix chief executive Ken Wood says that the cereal bar category's

importance at breakfast is unlikely to diminish: "The on-the-go and snacking sector looks set to grow for the foreseeable future."

Convenience foods are also joining the breakfast line-up. Heinz points out that consumption of baked beans between 6am and midday is growing faster than the total market for its beans. It says other Heinz products are being eaten at the beginning of the day.

"Research shows that

18.7 million breakfasts a year feature canned pasta and 36% are eaten by children. Children in the 11-16 group are driving the market and eat pasta for breakfast

at least once a week." n