Making flavors fly

Innovating with pies from a flavor standpoint is another easy way bakers can grab consumers’ attention. The category is so often associated with nostalgia and tradition that out-of-the-box varieties can shake up shoppers’ perception of pies as an end-of-year-only treat.

Mini peach pie
Bakers can use smaller pies to catch impulse purchase sales.

Shaking up such a category so entrenched in tradition isn’t without risk, however. This is where the trend toward smaller sizes can come in handy for snatching up impulse buys and getting people to try interesting flavors. “The 6-in. and smaller pies, where you are going to eat it yourself or share it with one other person, that’s where you can experiment more because you’re just pleasing yourself,” Mr. Van Iwaarden said.

These single-serve pies encourage people to not only buy on impulse but also try multiple flavors at once. “People can get two or three varieties instead of one or two, and they don’t throw part of it out because the pies were too big,” said Dennis Dipo, president of Fresh Foods Corp. of America doing business as Cyrus O’Leary’s Pies.

Another way to get creative while still ensuring success is relying on pairing successful individual flavors to create something new. Legendary Baking did that with its Peanut Butter Banana pie and is experimenting with Coconut Banana and White Chocolate Key Lime.

“That’s where the experimentation comes in,” Mr. Van Iwaarden said. “You don’t want to take it too far outside the norm, but you can take two friendly flavors and combine them to make something different. Everyone likes banana, and everyone likes peanut butter, so that’s pretty benign when looking at whether or not people are going to like it as a pie.”

Rocky Mountain Pies relies on flavor trends and finding inspiration in other food categories when innovating with its products.

Chocolate pie
Inventive flavors — such as Kahlua cream — can be less risky when based on already successful flavor trends and combination.

“We followed the sea salt trend a few years ago, and that’s become one of our best-selling products in our entire product offering, and it continues to be strong a couple years later,” Mr. Grandinetti said.

Raspberry Lemonade, Strawberry Margarita and S’mores pies are results of the company looking beyond traditional dessert flavors to get creative in its product development.

Cyrus O’Leary’s R.&D. department also looks to wider food trends to inspire its latest flavors. Chocolate Banana, Hazelnut Creme and Coffee Toffee are some of the company’s latest products. The next big thing is constantly on the minds of the product developers, according to Mr. Dipo.

“We’re constantly looking at different food shows, and one of the first questions that gets asked is, ‘What do you have that’s new?’ ” he said.

The American Pie Council’s National Pie Championship is another place where new ideas can be found and tested. Not only does this contest see old-standby flavors such as apple, peach and pumpkin take home prizes but also more inventive varieties such as PB&J and Caramel Mocha Almond Latte. “We’re involved in the National Pie Championships, and we like to see what other people have come up with to get an idea of what’s out there,” Mr. Dipo said.

Pumpkin Chiffon pie
Pumpkin Chiffon puts a new spin on a traditional pie and expands the pumpkin pie reach to new consumers.

Rocky Mountain Pies is also developing new pie flavors and offering consumers options at the major pie-centric holidays by reinventing classic pie flavors, namely its Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.

“There are a lot of people who don’t like pumpkin pie because of the mouthfeel, so we had the request from our customer base to create one of these pies, and it’s been quite successful.” This pumpkin pie alternative has been so successful that Rocky Mountain Pies launched a second version with a caramel drizzle top.

Legendary Baking also has found success tweaking existing pies to make them new.

“Our customers seem to be more interested in unique ways to present fruit pies such as going back to the lattice top look or a crumb top, adding caramel to an apple pie, just adding something a little unique to something that’s familiar to people,” Mr. Van Iwaarden said. “It’s a familiar flavor with a different look or top to it that people are really gravitating toward.”

Making the familiar new is the strategy for growing the pie category, and one that appears to be working. For a category so attached to the holidays, bakers are expanding what that means and reinventing their products to make pies a celebratory dessert for the whole year. Whether that’s attaching pies to holidays not traditionally associated with the dessert or selling consumers on the idea of mini pies as a daily treat, pie bakers are finding sales all year round.