When it comes to conventional soft pretzels, the trend swings undeniably to the sweet end of the spectrum, according to Josh Schreider, president, Better Bakery Co., Valencia, CA. “Kids today want a very sweet pretzel,” he said. “We make a very traditional dark German pretzel that has no sugar in it. It’s just not a very good seller. It’s not what kids want today.”

The exceptions are pretzel buns and rolls. “In the rolls, it seems we’re getting back to traditional flavors,” he said.

Pretzels’ salty tang pairs equally well with either savory or sweet flavors, depending on whom you ask. “Taking one of our Bavarian sticks and dipping it in chocolate, I think, is fantastic because you get the sweet, salty combination,” said Melinda Champion, vice-president, marketing, J&J Snack Foods, Pennsauken, NJ.

For Mark Friend, president, Farm to Market Bread Co., Kansas City, MO, the flavor of the pretzel is the most important factor in the equation, and it’s multiplied by shape. “We do these loaves and buns, and they’re great,“ he said, “but with the traditional shape, you get a lot more of the pretzel crust. That’s where the flavor comes from, and that’s what makes it unique.”

Still, sweet flavors are slowly gathering momentum as food service operators explore unique pairings for pretzel products. “We have had some people exploring, ‘Could you take pretzel products, fry them and then coat them with sugar and caramel sauce to create a dessert application?’” said John Updegraff, vice-president, national sales, Highland Baking Co., Northbrook, IL. “We made one with caramel and chocolate that was quite good.”

The challenge with any such pairing, according to Rich Labriola, owner and chief dough boy, Labriola Baking Co., Alsip, IL, is finding a complement to the pretzel itself. “Our standard pretzel has such depth of flavors you have to be careful,” he said. “It’s hard to get the perfect balance of an ingredient inside.” But, he said, that doesn’t mean the company is going to stop trying.