This month, Tom Vierhile at Datamonitor considers the appeal of a liquid breakfast amongst consumers.

It happened to typewriters, encyclopedias, film cameras and rotary telephones. Could the humble cereal dish and spoon soon be a relic of the past, joining them on a dusty museum shelf someplace? Maybe not in the immediate future, but recent developments in the breakfast market suggest that tomorrow’s breakfast could come from a bottle instead of a bowl. 

The quest for a drinkable breakfast has long been a preoccupation of food and drink producers seeking to make the morning meal an anytime, anywhere experience. Products like Carnation Instant Breakfast, a powder-based breakfast drink mix, have been offered for decades in markets like the US. And, breakfast cereal makers have been experimenting with their own drinkable products for at least the past ten years.

Kellogg Company, in fact, took the “drinkable breakfast” concept literally with the test market launch of Drink‘n Crunch a decade ago. Drink’n Crunch was cereal (Froot Loops Minis, for instance) packaged in a plastic cup similar in appearance to a lidded coffee cup from a fast-food restaurant. Billed as “the ultimate portable cereal,” one only had to add milk to enjoy. The question of whether or not somebody would choke on a solid piece of cereal when trying to “drink” breakfast was thus avoided.

Drink’n Crunch didn’t make it, but may have (in retrospect) been a concept that was simply too far ahead of its time. But, times have changed, and drinkable breakfasts are suddenly getting a new look. The success of the Australian Health & Nutrition Association’s Sanitarium Up&Go liquid breakfast product is one reason why the percentage of Australians purchasing breakfast drinks has nearly doubled, from 4.1% in 2008 to 7.7% now, according to Roy Morgan Research. Up&Go has quietly grabbed an estimated 10% to 20% share of the Australian breakfast cereal market, pitched as “the perfect option for (time-stressed) people who live on the go.” Offered in flavors like Strawberry and Banana, Up&Go retails in 35cl drink boxes and is fortified with ten vitamins and minerals plus fibre, calcium and protein.

Cereal makers are already moving forward with initiatives aimed at “drinkifying” breakfast to help end breakfast skipping. In 2012, Kellogg introduced Special K Breakfast Shake to US consumers, a bottled drink claimed to supply 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiberer per 180-calorie serving. Special K Breakfast Shake was aimed primarily at weight-watching women; that is not the case with Kellogg’s newer Breakfast-to-Go Shake, which has nearly identical nutritionals as Special K Breakfast Shake, but does not overtly target a specific gender or age group. Not to be left out, General Mills is reportedly testing a new shake called Bfast that contains whole grains and all of the nutrition of a traditional bowl of cereal with milk.

Breakfast cereal makers and healthy drinks producers have been on a collision course for some time, with drinkable smoothies a flash point. Illustrating the point are launches like Bolthouse Farms Breakfast Smoothie, a US launch in flavors like Strawberry Parfait that alludes to the line’s combination of fruit, yogurt and whole grains. Alpine Renew Oat Smoothie brings oats and their close association with breakfast into the equation with drinks offering “a hint of coffee” and “a hint of hazelnut.” Smoothies are also going after breakfast in the UK with Australia-inspired OSO Pure Fruit Breakfast Smoothie, in flavours like Mango & Passion Fruit.

Yogurt drink makers would also like a share of this market and have been increasingly bold about breakfast. Arla Foods introduced a product called Friesche Vlag Breaker Breakfast Yogurt Breakfast Drink in the Netherlands in 2011. The orange, apricot & kiwi-flavoured drink debuted in a 200g stand-up pouch with a twist-off cap – a novel package for drinkable breakfast products. Danone has been marketing its Activia Yogurt Drink with Juice in 'mediterranean' and 'tropical' flavours as “ideal for breakfast” in Spain. And, more recently, Asda launched Chosen by You Breakfast Yogurt Drink in a banana, strawberry & cereals flavour in the UK, featuring spelt and rye bran among the “cereals” ingredients.

Where breakfast drinks go from here is anyone’s guess. The market is casting a wide net for innovation ideas, even tapping sectors like energy drinks. Showing just how malleable the idea of “drinkable breakfast” is, PepsiCo’s new Mountain Dew Kickstart, a CSD made with 5% juice and vitamins B and C, contains caffeine to give ther start of the day a boost.

Another potentially fruitful NPD direction are drinks that contain solid breakfast ingredients that blur the line between foods and beverages. This is already taking place in China, where Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group introduced a UHT milk product containing rice grains, utilising SIG Combibloc’s unique *Drinksplus technology. This technology enables companies to aseptically fill drink cartons with real fruit, vegetable or cereal grain pieces that are up to 6mm in length and width, collectively comprising up to 10% of the beverage. Drinksplus containers are equipped with straws that are at least 7mm wide to accommodate the food chunks.

Danone-Unimilk became one of the first manufacturers outside of China to experiment with the Drinksplus system when it introduced Actual brand whey drinks in Russia. The mango- and peach-flavoured drinks contain nutritious bits of fruit and are marketed as healthy snacks for young, active women. Cereal grains could be next on the Drinksplus list, as SIG Combibloc is hailing the potential use of cereal grains in drinks to create a fuller flavour and an unusual drinking experience.

The possible use of breakfast-friendly grains like rice, oats, wheat, spelt and buckwheat could be a game changer for the drinkable breakfast concept.