Breakfast food sales rise through recession, but not healthy kinds

America really loves bacon.

America really loves bacon. Image: SaucyGlow/Flickr/CC BY

The breakfast food sector has seen a consistent rise in sales during the recession. Nutritionists say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so that should be heartening news. But the gains mostly represent the increased consumption of bacon and sweet pastries. Have we as a nation been feeding our worries throughout the economic downturn? And if so, how will that “weigh” on the nation, even after the economy fully recovers?

Breakfast food sales on the rise

According to a recent report from Mintel, breakfast food sales grew from $10 billion to $12 billion between 2007 and 2011. That is an increase of 20 percent, and a trend that has taken on steam. Seven percent of the increase happened between 2010 and 2011.

Not the healthiest menu

While 69 percent of respondents to the Mintel “U.S. Breakfast Foods Market” report for 2012 claimed to be concerned about the healthy content of the breakfast foods they select, it also found that salty meats and sweet baked goods dominate 80 percent of the first meal market. Sales of bacon, sausage and other breakfast meats grew by 10 percent in 2011. Sales of muffins, danishes and other sweet baked breakfast items rose by more than five percent.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said: “It’s very hard to say whether it’s better to not eat breakfast or to eat bacon and doughnuts. This is not good news for Americans’ diets and health.”

Comfort vs. nutrition

It’s the high sugar and fat content of these foods — the very things that make them unhealthy choices — that make them “comfort” foods, giving troubled consumers a brief repast from their daily concerns. The trouble, of course, is that it is unhealthy for their bodies, and ultimately, the nation.

John Frank of Mintel said, “There is a tug of war in the American psyche going on — people want to eat healthier but taste is always important.”

And bacon appears to be winning the tug of war. Sales of the addictive cured meat rose by 62 percent between 2009 and 2011.

Meanwhile, as Americans are more often choosing donuts and bacon over healthy grains and cereals, they are also consuming less milk, says the Wall Street Journal. Milk sales were down by 3 percent last year over 2010. Since 1975, they have dropped 30 percent.

Still the most important meal

Mintel’s report also found that people who professed to make healthy eating choices were also the ones who bought the least amount of breakfast food. That in itself may imply that they are not eating in as healthy a manner as they might think. People who skip breakfast tend to exhibit diminished mental performance, say nutritionists.


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