Desserts that feature fruit can be seen as permissible indulgences.

In an era of healthy mindsets and better-for-you options, indulgence doesn’t have to be a dirty word. When it comes to their indulgent products, more and more bakeries are putting an emphasis on using wholesome ingredients rather than making “diet” versions of otherwise indulgent treats. “We’re not in the business of selling ‘diet’ donuts,” said John Conner, president, French Gourmet, Sparks, NV. “If we all thought like that, Godiva wouldn’t be in business.”

Consumers want authenticity in the foods they eat, and they define that as ingredients they recognize, that they can pronounce and they could find in their own kitchens. According to a survey done by Lightspeed GMI and Mintel reported in the “Free From Food Trends US May 2015” report, desserts clocked in as the third most suspicious category of foods when it comes to controversial ingredients, ranking behind frozen meals and snacks. What constitutes a controversial ingredient is largely subjective, but companies have been removing hot button ingredients such as azodicarbonamide, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), trans fats and artificial colors and flavors.

More and more food companies are going back to basics: eggs, milk and butter. According to several pie bakers, all-butter pie crusts are common now. Butter was previously not the fat of choice in the quest for making the flakiest pie crust, but shoppers are reading labels and voting with their dollars. Shortening is out; butter is in.

With the clean-label and organic movements in full force, consumers seeking indulgence and decadence can still find what they’re looking for in places like Whole Foods. For example, Just Desserts launched a line of organic and non-GMO-certified grab-and-go items that include single-serve cupcakes, cakes and mini Bundts, all of which are Whole Foods compliant. “When you indulge, you should be able to feel good about what goes into it,” said Ana Speros, customer service manager and marketing coordinator.

Rich’s Products removed all artificial ingredients from its desserts in an effort to deliver sweet treats shoppers can feel good about. The discarded ingredients included HFCS and artificial colors and flavors.

The Original Cakerie, Delta, BC, takes advantage of fruit ingredients for seasonal items, such as their line of summer cakes that come in flavors including strawberry, peaches and cream, key lime, raspberry, and three berry. “Fruit is a hot trend because it’s a permissible indulgence,” Doris Bitz, senior vice-president, retail sales and marketing. In addition, the company launched a line of gluten-free layer cakes last year under its Inspired by Happiness brand, which won a FABI Award from the National Restaurant Association for its innovation in taste, marketability and creativity.

Pie bakeries have also seen a surge in popularity for fruit pies. And bakeries can’t cut corners with jelly fillings. Consumers expect the real deal, large pieces of fruit, in their fruit pies. “Berry is huge for us,” said Mark Van Iwaarden, marketing director, Legendary Baking, Denver, of his company's pie sales. The bakery features multiple berry combinations in its pies. Red, White and Blue is a popular one that Legendary Baking launched in mid-year 2015.

Rocky Mountain Pies also features a Red, White and Blue pie made with cherries, apples and blueberries.

Also under the Inspired by Happiness brand, The Original Cakerie recently released a high-protein indulgent snack that addresses the aftertaste sometimes associated with high-protein foods. Oats & Honey Chewy Granola Bites are made with honey and butter, seeds and nuts. Deep Chocolate Brownie Bites feature butter, chocolate chunks and are topped with dark chocolate. Both products are gluten-free and deliver 4 to 5 g protein and 3 g fiber, all without trans fats, GMOs or artificial colors. This new line of snacks brings together the trends of bite-sized treats, premium and clean-label ingredients.

That’s where indulgent desserts are finding growth today, at the intersection of mini, premium and clean label.