Bakery cases and dessert menus have evolved quite a bit from the days of the cupcake revolution and mashup mania that followed. While the popularity of cupcakes and cronuts have waned, these trends introduced consumers to a new way of enjoying indulgent treats and required bakeries to create products that pushed the boundaries of flavor and format.

Step into any in-store bakery or fast-casual restaurant today and derivatives of these baked foods can be seen, but new consumer preferences are transforming product development.

Developing desserts for today’s consumers largely depends on the demographic companies are targeting. According to Technomic’s “2017 Flavor Consumer Trend Report,” baby boomers are less likely to try a new flavor while Gen Xers and millennials are driving the demand for unique flavors.

“The growing divide in flavor preferences between millennials and boomers heightens the need for a product mix that appropriately balances familiarity and innovation,” said Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic. “Creating a small twist on classic recipes with flavors that particularly appeal to boomers can provide an element of uniqueness without going too far out of their comfort zone.”

Food service companies have taken notice of this boomer preference by altering classic desserts to meet modern tastes. Lauren Lopez, director of marketing, fully finished desserts, Rich Products, Buffalo, NY, said these products allow people to experiment without taking too much risk.

“We see success with the concept of ‘familiar with a twist,’ which are oftentimes classic desserts that are reinvented for the latest lifestyle trends,” she said.

For instance, bakeries looking to refresh their product portfolio could offer food service customers cheesecakes made with trending flavors or reconfigure a cookie into a bowl for ice cream.

Consumers also are keen to try desserts that transport them to the past. According to Technomic, 46% of Americans favor the ones they enjoyed as children. Tyson Foodservice, a division of Tyson Foods, Inc., Springdale, Ark., tapped into this sentiment with its s’mores-inspired brownie.

“We’ve seen the nostalgic desserts come back into play,” said Janee Luhrsen, category marketing manager, Tyson Foods. “People are definitely craving those old classics but in a new, modern form.”

By incorporating branded ingredients into desserts, food service companies also play into this trend. Even as consumers’ tastes shift, products can offer a bit of familiarity by adding a brand’s signature cookie or candy to a bar or cake.

“Despite the changing dynamics in the market, one thing remained consistent, and that is that branding really does matter,” said John Sommer, senior market research manager of food service at Mondelez International, Deerfield, Ill. “Our research and experience has shown us that consumers look for familiarity in the brands that they grew up with and that gives us the credibility to extend them into new places.”

Mondelez offers numerous ways to create innovative desserts with its well-recognized products. For example, food service suppliers can create a dessert pizza with a hazelnut spread and top it off with Oreo cookie pieces and icing or make a glazed donut stand out by adding Chips Ahoy! cookie pieces to it. Replacing generic ingredients with branded ones not only raises a product’s profile but also adds a premium element.

Forgoing the familiar, Gen Xers and millennials are more adventurous when it comes to trying new desserts. Unexpected flavors can draw in these consumers who are accustomed to eating a wide variety of cuisines.

According to Mintel’s “2018 U.S. Flavor Trends” report, food service operators are tempering the sweetness that is typically associated with desserts. The research firm noted that olive oil as a flavor in desserts grew 16% from 2015 to 2017 and that tart and tangy are some of the fastest-growing flavors to be included on menus.

The Original Cakerie, St. Paul, Minn., strayed from the sweet notes typically found in dessert bars and offers a Wildberry Macaroon Bar that contains a pureed layer of black currants, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries atop a chewy oatmeal crust. Sticking to the savory side of things, New York-based BelPastry offers cheese pastries in gouda, cheese swirl, and spinach and ricotta varieties.

Bakeries also are seeing an increased demand for premium desserts inspired by alcoholic beverages. Topping off cakes with a sweet liqueur drizzle or blending the beverage into a filling enhances its flavor profile and adds a sophisticated touch. The Bistro Collection brand, which recently was acquired by private equity firm Kohlberg & Co. from Tyson Foods’ frozen bakery business, leveraged the power of branding and combined it with this trend to create a New York-style cheesecake that contains Bailey’s Irish Cream.

“We’ve seen a lot of trends toward boozy desserts, so we wanted to offer cheesecake in a branded way that would create the most impact,” Ms. Luhrsen said. “Bailey’s is the No. 1 liqueur brand, and we thought its high recognition would play well with our gourmet desserts.”

While alcohol-inspired desserts may not align with every brand’s lineup, new flavors are always on the verge of breaking through. By staying up-to-date on emerging consumer needs, bakeries can create personalized products that cater to changing lifestyles and tastes.