Breakfast rituals

Search #breakfast on Instagram and almost 900,000 photos show up. Search #coffee and it’s a similar number.

Until recently, regularly eating breakfast out of the home was something that happened on ‘the Continent’. Those elegant, accented men and women at gleaming chrome counters sipping espresso, or nibbling on a croissant. Here in the UK, breakfast meant a greasy fry-up, while across the pond, many Americans got their start to the day with drive-through egg McMuffin.

But an increasing proliferation of artisanal coffee shops combined with mobile apps like Foursquare, Twitter and Instagram, has seen the emergence of a new form of breakfast ritual. One that is dictated by environmental, packaging, product and service design as much as by taste.

Ever since the Starbucks ‘traveling cappuccino” in the early 2000’s, people have used food brands alongside fashion brands as a means to signify personality, wealth and preference. As ‘bling’ subsided, what brand of coffee you were carrying along the street became a key signpost to social standing. As Harry Balzer was quoted as saying in a USA Today article last month, “Food is fashion. You wear your diet like you wear your clothes”.

Skip forward to 2012 and Starbucks’ star has faded and Intsagram has replaced the street as a catwalk for self-realisation. In certain parts of London, New York, San Francisco and LA it’s all about the unbranded, locally sourced, independently produced, $3 flat white captured from above with the X-pro II filter. In this scenario, the taste of the goods is a consideration, but it is not everything. A photogenic store, and a tweetable experience also become key factors.

This trend may be currently limited to those who can afford both a monthly iPhone bill and a daily $3 coffee, but it is surely a sign of a things to come. Those two minutes while a customer waits for his soy milk to be foamed represent valuable social real estate and a rich opportunity for them to amplify the brand.  Food and beverage companies will do well to get their heads around the new breakfast ritual, and see the value of cultivating a distinctive identity (outside of logo) in this area.

See also: “Highly Caffeinated Retail” and “The little Square that can“.