The growing trend for breakfasting on-the-go and at out of home establishments has been threatening breakfast cereal’s number one spot1. As well as a need for more convenience, breakfast cereals have been hit hard by the recent negative headlines with regard to their sugar content. But are the latest trends going to help improve or will they fuel the obesity epidemic?

What do the Brits fancy for breakfast?
Many surveys claim that up to 42% of us (and almost a quarter of school children) do not always have breakfast, stating time constraints are a major factor2,3. Kantar’s data however shows that only 7.7% of breakfast occasions were actually missed last year. This significant difference could be explained by the growing trend of eating ‘on-the-go’ or away from home which has grown by 10%4.

The UK seems to be slow to change its breakfast habits with the majority of breakfast occasions (84%) still taking place at home and breakfast cereals, toast and porridge remaining top favourites during the week whilst cooked breakfast continues to be popular at weekends2. The growing trend is for eating at catering establishments and portable on-the-go offerings with perceived health credentials such as breakfast biscuits, porridge pots and fruit and nut category, the latter seeing a 21.5% increase in 20152.

Breakfast cereals: UK’s no.1 choice with wholegrain cereals chosen by 37% of us during the week and still claiming over half the share of the market5,6. Many breakfast cereals have now significantly reduced their sugar levels, more ‘no-added-sugar’ variants are gaining shelf-space whilst a few indulgent variants still remain. According the to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), breakfast cereals account for just 5% of the added sugar intakes of adults and 6-8% of 4-10 year olds and teens.7 On the other hand, breakfast cereals (especially those that are fortified) do make a significant contribution to key vitamin and mineral intakes:

  • B vitamins, in particular B1, B6 and folate.
    6-9% of our vitamin D intake – vitamin D status is a growing concern in the UK6.
  • Iron: 46% of teenage girls, and almost a quarter of women consume below the low reference nutrient intake (LRNI), which places them at high risk of deficiency. Cereals are a major source of iron contributing to 17% of teens, 23% of 4-10 year olds and 12% of adult intakes.
  • Calcium: mainly due to the addition of milk but a handful are also fortified. Almost a fifth of teenage girls do not meet their LRNI placing them at higher osteoporosis risk in later life.


Looks like a hard act to follow, so how do other breakfast choices match up?

Porridge: Oats are making a come-back with 27% of us likely to make this choice in a week5. Porridge oats get a nutritional gold star from us, as they provide the gel-like fibre, beta-glucan, which has been proven to lower cholesterol levels – and boy almost 60% of us need to lower our cholesterol.8,9 However, how we serve them up is critical – piling on the sugar (even demerara sugar), drizzling with honey or syrup and making it with full cream milk converts this saint to a sinner. The porridge revival could be partly explained by the growing ‘on-the-go’ varieties which are now purchased by 9% of consumers4.

Toast continues to be popular for 32% of people during the week5. White toast provides calcium (accounting for 13% of teenagers’ intakes) whilst wholemeal and seeded breads provide fibre which, is highly relevant considering the 2015 new increased UK fibre recommendations6,10. Clearly, what we add to our toast is central to the nutritional quality, nut butters and unsaturated fat spreads providing healthy heart fats, whilst chocolate spreads (yes…that includes the favourite hazelnut and chocolate spread) and preserves are taking us on a sugar high.

Eggs: we can’t seem to get enough of them. Almost 3,000 million eggs are eaten at breakfast every year with one in five of us opting for an eggy breakfast at least once a week11. Eggs, originally classified as a complete nutrient food, provide protein, vitamin D, iron, phosphorus, iodine and selenium. In addition, it is reassuring to know that all the UK heart and health advisory bodies do not limit egg consumption (as the cholesterol found in food does not have a significant effect on blood cholesterol in most people)12. A gold star from us, if boiled or poached, however, the Brits favourite is a fried egg… oops, too much fat.

The growing convenience breakfast trends
Convenience, portability and time-saving options which also provide exceptional nutrition credentials are now in demand. A third of us are eating breakfast away of home at least once a week and 15% of us do so every day according to a Beacon 2015 survey13. In addition, gluten-free and high-protein health claims are also gaining traction4.

Out of home establishments:

  • Greggs and MacDonald’s have a booming breakfast trade, however, the majority of options seem to include sausages and / or cheese which is a recipe for a heart attack with the hefty dose of saturated fat and salt levels. Some of the breakfast options providing up to 80% of daily saturated fat and over ¾ of daily salt recommendations. On the positive note, porridge oats are making an entry, however, for consumers to pick out the handful of healthier options amongst the sea of unhealthy options will be difficult. We feel a better balance and better promotion of healthier options are needed.
  • Coffee shops: Coffees and other drinks on offer can be high in saturated fat and sugar laden, however, the options are there to opt for lower fat milks and sugar-free syrups. The mainstream coffee shops have improved their ‘healthier’ breakfast options with porridge, fruit salads, fruit and nuts and yogurt with granola on offer. However, the low fibre, higher fat and calorie croissants and muffins continue to be more popular.
  • Cooked breakfasts: This is still a popular weekend choice, but with a whopping 800-1,000 calories for a classic fry-up, it has to have a thumbs down from us. Or does it? Making a few requests when ordering can bring this fat and calorie laden classic into healthy repute: poached eggs, beans, grilled lean bacon rasher, mushrooms, tomatoes, one sausage and toast instead of fried bread could almost half the calories whilst still providing fibre, protein as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

On-the-go options
Breakfast drinks, breakfast biscuits and fruit and nut bars have become widely available, albeit at a higher unit cost. All are portion controlled, the breakfast drinks use skimmed milk as the main ingredient and most provide a range of vitamins and minerals – many matching the nutrition profile of breakfast cereals.

Breakfast biscuits: 19% of consumers are opting for breakfast biscuits over cereal bars4. Nutritionally, they mimic cereals from macro and most micronutrients. Calcium and protein levels from the milk added to cereal are clearly lacking in the biscuits, but the leading brand provides clear advice on paring up the biscuits with yogurt and / or fresh fruit / fruit juice. An excellent option in our point of view.

Breakfast drinks: Definitely a very small but growing market that has failed to take off in the past. The Australian number one brand is definitely leading on this category. Many utilise key health slogans such as protein, energy and fibre whilst omitting to highlight their less than impressively sugar content. Nutritionally, they seem to match up with for fat and protein, however, sugar content varies between 18g and 20g per serving compared to cereal at 0-11g per serving. Interestingly, protein content can be exceptionally high and calcium levels per serving are 2 – 3½ fold greater than for most cereals served with milk. This may be advantageous if it appeals to the 19% of teenage girls and 12% of young women who have calcium intakes below the low reference nutrient intakes. Nutrilicious opinion: get that sugar down.

New opportunities
Recent government advice has highlighted the need to cut sugar levels (free sugars to less than 5% total energy intake) and increase fibre intake (to 30g AOAC per day for teens and adults)10. Considering this advice it would seem beneficial for any new breakfast foods to be based on wholegrains and / or provide soluble fibres such as beta-glucans and inulin and to be limited in free sugars as much as possible. The vitamin and mineral fortification of breakfast cereals significantly contributes to the nation’s micronutrient status, thus any new options must ensure that these essential nutrients are not lacking<sup>6</sup>. With on-the-go eating and eating at out of home establishments becoming more popular, it is paramount that options lower in sugar dominate. Sugar is now the big enemy under scrutiny by government, health organisations and pressure groups such as Action on Sugar14. This also applies to porridge pots and cereal pots as not all are low sugar and/or high in fibre. To add to the challenges for innovation, the consumer continuous to demand a great taste as well as a healthy nutrition quality.

When comparing different options, it is clear that healthier options are available whether breakfasting at home, catering establishment, coffee shop or eating on the go. However, the new trends need to focus more on providing a better balance and promoting more of the healthier options. The porridge, fruit and nut, lower fat and sugar free options at catering establishments are a good start, but the likelihood of the consumer choosing these amongst the overwhelming selection of higher fat, salt and sugar options is questionable. Breakfast cereals do contribute significantly to vitamin and mineral intakes especially iron and calcium – and there is a risk for vulnerable groups to become deficient if they begin to move away from these.

With all the above in mind, there are many opportunities to develop new innovative ways to create tasty, convenient, nutritious breakfasts that allow for people on the go to eat a greater variety of foods to help meet their nutritional requirements. Whilst time may be limited for many in the morning, Variety is King in helping consumers achieve adequate nutrient intake.


  1. Financial Times Oct 3 (2014). Daneshkhu S: Cereal sales go soggy as breakfast shrinks.
  2. Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) for Cereals & Oilseeds Market News: Cereals and bread still breakfast mainstays. 14 January 2016.
  3. British Nutrition Foundation. National Pupil and Teacher Survey 2015 UK Survey Results.
  4. Grocer March Guide to Breakfast.
  5. Shake Up Your Wake Up, Fun Breakfast Facts (2015).
  6. Bates B et al (2014). National Diet and Nutrition Survey: results from Years 1 to 4 (combined) of the rolling programme for 2008 and 2009 to 2011 and 2012. Available at
  7. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition 2015. Draft Vitamin D and Health report. Scientific consultation: 22 July to 23 September 2015. Available at
  8. Heart UK (2016). The Power of Oat Beta Glucan.
  9. Townsend N, Bhatnagar P, Wilkins E, Wickramasinghe K, Rayner M (2015). Cardiovascular disease statistics, 2015. British Heart Foundation: London. Available at
  10. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2015). Carbohydrates and Health Report.
  11. Egg Info (2016). Industry Data.
  12. Gray J and Griffin B (2009). Eggs and dietary cholesterol – dispelling the myth. Nutr Bull 36,199-211
  13. Beacon. Brits’ breakfast habits a big boost for the economy as people spend £76 million every day on eating out for breakfast. Survey 2015. Available at
  14. Action on Sugar (2015). Breakfast Cereals Survey 2015.


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