As everyone in the food industry knows, healthy or not, food has to taste good or consumers simply will not bite.

And there’s plenty of evidence showing that consumers are seeking out indulgent treats. IRI data indicates that center-store morning bakery items, which include donuts, pastries and muffins, are up 8.1%, and perimeter morning bakery treats jumped 14.8% over the 52 weeks ending Jan. 23.

“Morning snacking is on fire and one of the drivers behind our 8.5% increase in sales of our Hostess handheld breakfast snacks over the past three years,” said Tina Lambert, vice president of innovation and growth at Hostess Brands, Lenexa, Kan. “Through consumer research, we’ve identified 18 different consumer snacking occasions, one of which we call ‘morning sweet start.’ This occasion represents a $5.8 billion annual market opportunity that has been growing at 5.5% over the past three years.”

The idea of the small indulgence can be seen in several popular mini snacks and bites, such as Entenmann’s Minis, Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Bites or Frosted Mini Wheats Little Bites and more.

Since 2021, Hostess has launched Lemon Drizzle and Cinnamon Swirl Baby Bundts, which are mini bundt cakes drizzled with icing, and Muff’n Stix, which are portable morning snacks that come in Blueberry and Chocolate Chip. And Hostess’ mini donuts is the No. 1 selling sub-brand.

“We are focused on innovating and marketing in the breakfast space,” Ms. Lambert said. “Donettes will continue to be one of our priority brands for advertising and one that is ripe for continued innovation given these trends. For example, to address consumers’ interest in energy-boosting foods, we recently launched caffeinated Hostess Boost Jumbo Donettes in two decadent flavors — Chocolate Mocha and Caramel Macchiato. Each hearty donut contains slightly less caffeine, 50-70 mg, than one cup of coffee.”

The Hostess mini is a smart marketing move, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel, because it provides consumers with an indulgent snack.

“The brand promise of Hostess is it’s going to be the fun little treat whether it’s a Twinkie or a sleeve of donuts, whatever it happens to be,” she said. “I give them so much credit for taking it and running with it, and then finding so many fun ways to expand it.”

One brand marketing itself as a permissible indulgent treat is Daelmans stroopwafels, which had a dollar growth of 17% for the 52-week period ending Feb. 20.

“It has sort of a richness that makes it a bit of an indulgence, but it doesn’t knock you over with sweetness in the way that a lot of American snacks do,” said Tom Daly, chief executive officer of The Brand Passport Inc., New York City, which distributes the Netherlands-made brand in the United States. “There’s sort of a subtlety to it, a balance of the flavors that makes it much more of an appealing morning treat where a typical indulgent cookie or confection would be a bit much for that time of the day.”

They come in a variety of flavors, including Caramel, Honey, Maple, Chocolate and Coffee. They are non-GMO and free of artificial ingredients and preservatives, and the brand recently introduced fresh frozen stroopwafels for foodservice accounts. The treats are sold as large and minis. Mr. Daly said one of the product’s top selling points is the ritual of warming the large “coffee topper” stroopwafel over a hot cup of coffee or tea.

“This ritual people practice transforms it into this gooey, melty warm snack simply by setting it on top of a coffee cup for a couple of minutes,” Mr. Daly said. “You get to turn it into something that’s especially indulgent. The ritual, that transformation, is really unique in snacks and breakfast foods.”

One of the keys to success for indulgent treats is to stay the course, Ms. Dornblaser said.

“The biggest challenge is making sure they’re unapologetically delivering on what they’re all about,” she said. “The challenge sometimes in indulgent categories is to own it. We know that consumers want treats. We know that they want to indulge, and it’s OK to let them do that. But it’s hard to do that when it feels like everyone is talking about health.”

Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president and practice leader, client insights, IRI, said in a recent webinar, “Winning Breakfast, Generation by Generation,” said she found six flavors that are growing in popularity, including fruit and fruit blends, chocolate and chocolate combinations, vanilla, caramel, marshmallow and peanut butter. She said fruit and fruit blends were especially popular in 2020 and 2021.

“What we’re starting to see in ’22 is back to hot and spicy, so the hotter the better,” she said. “I believe that will be one of the trends we see in breakfast in ’22.”

This article is an excerpt from the April 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Breakfast, click here.