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Breakfast sandwich business is booming in Canada

An Egg McMuffin meal is pictured at a McDonald's restaurant in Encinitas, California August 13, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Would you like a breakfast sandwich with that?

A growing number of Canadians are saying yes to buying breakfast sandwiches on the go these days.

Sales of protein sandwiched between carbs has risen more than 12 per cent in the past year alone, said Robert Carter, executive director of foodservice with The NPD Group, in a phone interview with Yahoo Canada.

“It’s one of the fastest growing segments in the past five years,” said the head of the research firm.

Canadians eat a whopping 480 million breakfast sandwiches per year, with many grabbing one on the way to their cubicles in the morning, said Carter.

Fuel for workers

Workers have long liked to buy a coffee and a breakfast sandwich on their way to work, said Heather Arndt Anderson, who literally wrote the book on the history of breakfast.

In the nineteenth century workers in London would lineup to buy an egg sandwich and a cup of Joe from a food cart, explained the author of Breakfast: A History.

“With the Industrial Revolution people started to eat more food on the go,” she said in a phone interview.

We’re lovin’ it

McDonald’s revolutionized the breakfast on-the-go model in the age of the personal automobile and drive-thrus.

The biggest fast-food chain in the world cracked the breakfast-sandwich market wide open. An American franchisee first hocked eggs, with cheese and Canadian bacon atop toasted English muffins in the early ‘70s. The Golden Arches started selling the Egg McMuffin in Canada in 1976, as part of the launch of its breakfast menu.

The breakfast sandwich is now an iconic food item that remains “very popular with Canadians from St. John’s to Victoria every day,” said Anne Parks, director of menu management for McDonald’s Canada, in an email interview.

And while Canada's love for breakfast sandwiches, and breakfast in general, is clearly there, there are currently no plans to roll out McDonald's all-day breakfast strategy in Canada, despite its recent announcement in the U.S.

The Egg McMuffin basically had the breakfast-sandwich kingdom to itself for decades. Then, over the past ten years or so, other fast-food giants started to aggressively court hungry Canadians looking to start their day with a hot coffee and breakfast sandwich.

A new king

Tim Hortons breakfast sandwich in a combo (courtesy Tim Hortons)
Tim Hortons breakfast sandwich in a combo (courtesy Tim Hortons)

Tim Hortons, which merged with McDonald’s rival Burger King last year, has emerged as the new king of breakfast sandwiches in the Great White North.

The coffee-and-donut chain turned fast-food behemoth sells nearly six out of every 10 breakfast sandwiches sold in Canada at quick-service restaurants, said Michelle Robichaud, director of public affairs for Tim Hortons, in an email interview.

She’s quick to add that’s “twice as many as our next largest competitor.”

While Timmies and Mickey D’s continue to dominate the breakfast-sandwich market others are looking to make their offerings part of your morning routine.

More than one way to crack an egg

Starbucks breakfast sandwich (courtesy Startbucks)
Starbucks breakfast sandwich (courtesy Startbucks)

Starbucks started selling breakfast sandwiches here around the same time as Tim Hortons, but the director of marketing at Starbucks Canada, admits up until recently many Canadians were not even aware the world’s largest coffee-shop chain sold them.

That’s quickly changing, thanks in part to education efforts, such as better signage, said Kevin Reid in a phone interview.

“Growth in food in general is up close to 20 per cent, year-over-year,” said the Starbucks Canada exec recently. “Breakfast sandwiches have been outpacing that.”

Habitual appetites

Carter expects the growth of the breakfast-sandwich market to continue its upward trajectory at Starbucks, and elsewhere.

We could all, of course, fairly easily cook up our own egg sandwich creations at home for significantly less money than buying them on our way to work, but that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

“Convenience trumps everything,” said Carter.

And, while breakfast sandwiches may not seem like the healthiest option, many Canucks, especially young males, like the convenient hit of protein in the morning and are clearly willing to pay a premium for it.

“The millennial cohort has really embraced the breakfast sandwich craze,” said the research head. “That’s why it will continue to grow. It’s now part of their morning routine.”