Ahhh, dessert. It’s rich, indulgent and ultimately worth the calories. For many dessert lovers, the connection between health and wellness and indulgence has thankfully broken. Desserts are created to be indulgent with the health-and-wellness aspects being a clean label using high-quality ingredients such as butter, sugar, eggs and Dutch cocoa.
Once found primarily in whitetablecloth restaurants or standalone bakeries, these high-end desserts are now available through retail and wholesale outlets, making an elegant dessert more available than ever. Ironically, the economy is frequently cited for the reawakened demand for highquality sweet goods and desserts as people look for affordable treats.
Daphne Baking Co., Kent, CT, produces gourmet thaw-and-serve nondecorated tarts created by pastry chef Bo Bartlett. The timesaving products were created with the motto “We do the work, you take the credit.” While the idea of pastry chefs choosing to not decorate their product may seem strange in an age of celebrity chefs and branding, the concept allows the host to shine among guests with a more personalized presentation.
According to Technomic, Inc., Chicago-IL-based food service consultants, at-home social occasions are an untapped growth opportunity. “This is where your customers are,” said Melissa Wilson, principal, Technomic. “They [consumers] used to use restaurants as social venues, but now they’re entertaining at home. And they’ve told us they plan to continue doing so because they’re enjoying socializing with friends at each other’s homes.”
Wal-Mart, Bentonville, AR, teamed with Paula Deen to produce a line of indulgent desserts. The line will feature old-fashioned pies and butter cake dessert bars intended for at-home socializing.
In the case of mini desserts, consumers can save money and still enjoy highquality items. The 2009 National Restaurant Association’s Chef Survey: What’s Hot ranked bite-sized/ mini desserts No. 2 in the Top 20 trends, while mini desserts were ranked as the No. 1 dessert trend.
Galaxy Desserts, Richmond, CA, has offered French-inspired mini desserts for 11 years. Companies such as Galaxy Desserts have supplied desserts to whitetablecloth restaurants long before the mainstream fervor for mini desserts. The success of these desserts, made with high-quality ingredients and a less-is-more approach, has taken a stronghold in wholesale and retail operations.
From its inception, Galaxy Desserts has incorporated the European influence of Jean-Yves Charon, the company’s Frenchborn co-founder and pastry chef. The company’s newest offerings include: a petite pound cake, Stollen and Bûche de Noël along with gluten-free Mousse Duos and almond-based macarons. While dessert is undeniably a treat, Galaxy Dessert’s customers have found new relevance for its portion-controlled desserts.
“By limiting the serving size, we are limiting the calories and fat content of a dessert,” said Heather Sears, director of marketing and sales, Galaxy Desserts. “We address indulgence by focusing on satiety using satisfying, highquality ingredients and processes versus using a lot of fillers or lowercalorie bulking agents.”
Susan Axelrod, chairwoman and founder of Love and Quiches, Freeport, NY, agreed that quality is becoming increasingly important. The purveyor of portioned frozen desserts partners with customers to develop dessert products, plating concepts and marketing ideas.
“Our niche is indulgence, particularly in this economy,” Ms. Axelrod said. “People want to reward themselves, and our products are dark, chewy, rich and intense.” The demand for smaller desserts has even expanded the company’s target market into convenience stores. With consumers cutting back on sit-down meals, convenience stores are experiencing increased mealtime traffic. Love & Quiches offers C-store customers its Gourmet Grab & Go line of pre-wrapped brownies and Oatmeal Chewies made with California raisins. This month, the company introduced L’il Lovers 100-Cal brownies.
The trend witnessed by Ms. Axelrod was supported by findings from The Integer Group, a retail marketing agency. “There has been an 8% rise in consumers who are willing to spend more money at convenience stores if it makes their lives a little easier,” said Craig Elston, senior vice-president, Integer, Lakewood, CO.
Most analysts agree recent trends will continue as high food prices show little sign of abating. Sugar commodity prices are predicted to rise significantly in the near future. Manufacturers must continually recalibrate to find a balance between keeping costs reasonable while still meeting or exceeding consumer demand for high-quality products. Therefore, a growing number are taking a cue from their European counterparts, producing petite, indulgent desserts made with high-quality ingredients.
Eric Olsen, co-owner of Oh Danish Bakery, Racine, WI, predicted consumers would become more weight conscious, choosing to consume desserts made with only the highest quality ingredients that are ultimately worth the calories. “For many people when money must be more closely managed, our high-quality/high-value products are preferred because they are more confident that they will be satisfied with their purchase,” Mr. Olsen said. The company, which offers a money-back guarantee, recently introduced a single-serve Kringle, Bear Claws, Danish butter cookies and 10-oz Kringle Strips and Coffee Cakes.
“Consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of portion sizes,” said Priscilla Martel, food industry consultant and textbook author. “But portions also help the retailer from a cost point by coming up with new sizes for flexibility of pricing.”
Reduced portion sizes also help consumers reduce sugar, fat and calorie counts. This can be increasingly important as organizations such as the American Heart Association call for a reduction in sugar consumption.
Sanford, FL-based de Boer Food believes that while trends come and go, quality never goes out of style. The producer of Europeanstyle premium desserts reported three major trends: smaller por- tions, back to the basics and healthier options. Herbie Martin, marketing and project manager at the company, said smaller portions translate into fewer materials that lower costs and often render a healthier finished product. de Boer Foods offers a number of traditional European desserts such as Vol au Vents, Belgian Crepes and Belgian Chocolate-filled cups in a US-friendly trans-fat-free profile.
“In general, European recipes and concepts have a tendency of being smaller in size than many of the American counterparts, thereby helping us bring more and more single-serve creations to the market,” Mr. Martin said. “The key is to find the niche and then make it grow.”
WHAT ABOUT ME?
Indulgent, check. Portion-controlled sizing, check. But what if that beautiful dessert contains gluten? For a growing number of Americans, gluten-free desserts are becoming both a viable and better-tasting option.
Pat Libling, founder of PatsyPie, Ville-St-Laurent, QC, has been a celiac for 25 years. She began her business by creating gluten-free recipes of things she missed eating. Today, PatsyPie distributes gluten-free desserts throughout the US and Canada. “I try to develop products for celiacs that are missing in the regular world,” Ms. Libling said. “We test our items on non-celiac individuals, because if that group likes it, then we know that we’re on to something.” PatsyPie produces glutenand wheat-free cookies, brownies and biscotti. Its newest introduction is a lemon shortbread cookie.
O’Dough’s, North York, ON, entered the gluten-free market to fill a need that addressed both taste and health and wellness. “If you’re diagnosed celiac, I think food will always automatically fall into the health and wellness category, but a cake, cookie or muffin is always an indulgent item,” said Ari Weinberg, founding partner, O’Dough’s. The company prides itself on creating gluten-free Chocolate, Carrot and Banana Chocolate Chip cakes with a moist mouthfeel and all-natural ingredients.
“Celiacs are a very specific part of the population that are starving for some sweet options,” Mr. Weinberg said. “We want to create products like any other market that are gluten-free but that the average consumer wants to eat because they taste great.”
While not a health consideration, vegan desserts are gaining increased market share. Natural Products Expo in March featured a number of bakeries touting vegan reformulations. Sweet Lady Jane, a Los Angeles, CAbased bakery, continues to find success producing vegan desserts. The company is also exploring the addition of sugar-free items based on customer requests. “People still treat themselves on the weekend; they don’t give up indulgence,” said Jane Lockhart, owner, Sweet Lady Jane.
Whether it’s based on social, physical or environmental needs, it’s clear that there’s no room for excuses when it comes to taste. Ms. Axelrod of Love and Quiches may have put it best saying, “People will never stop wanting dessert, and ultimately, desserts are the best last impression you can make.”