No doubt about it, the food service dessert category is dynamic and growing. According to our research, this profitable category is adding innovative new flavors and introducing new products. Desserts are penetrating into the food service category like never before.
The latest numbers show that in terms of total desserts, there has been a near 10 percent growth in total types of dessert items from 2010 to 2015.
This penetration into different venues has been remarkable. Fine dining establishments lead the penetration, with 98 percent having dessert items on the menu, followed by 97 percent and 94 percent, respectively, at casual and mid-scale restaurants. Dessert items are so popular, in fact, that the lowest percentage penetration in any category of restaurant is 86 percent in quick serve establishments.
How do these dessert items break down? In researching some 1,268 restaurants, baked goods of all kinds dominated, at nearly twice that of the ice cream concepts; the tally was 5,129 to 2,562. After that point, there is a huge drop-off to Pudding/Gelatin, Fried Desserts and Fruit Dishes. As a point of comparison, Pudding/Gelatin concepts were about one-quarter of the ice cream items.
Across the board, the top desserts on the menu for all operators are the standard favorites that America has grown to love, largely, Ice Cream/Gelato, Chocolate cake, Fruit Pie, Milkshakes and Brownies. The surprises come in the fastest growing items in the foodservice dessert category: Biscotti, Apple, Dessert Empanada, Dessert Waffles and Coconut Cake. Empanada and Biscotti reflect the continuing trends in one-time ethnic foods going mainstream.
For marketers and product development teams, be aware that far and away, chocolate ingredients still dominate the category. Given all of the desserts in the dessert category, chocolate as an ingredient is found in about 68 percent of the items. In terms of the top 15 dessert ingredients, following chocolate are “ice cream” at 54 percent, vanilla at 48 percent and “cheese” at 40 percent. Of importance, within the top 15 are “Brownie,” “Chocolate Chip” and “Fudge.”
However, while chocolate dominates, the fastest growing new flavors are not variants of chocolate but reflect many fruit and herbal flavors. Surprising is the huge rise of Peppermint. In the Northeast, the fastest growing flavors in the dessert category are Peppermint, Chai and Pomegranate; in the South, Peppermint, Grape and Kiwi; in the Midwest, Grape, Peppermint and Pear; and in the West, Bourbon, Watermelon and Sea Salt, though Peppermint is within the top five flavors in that region as well.
Are these flavor trends completely distinct from chocolate? Not necessarily so. Dessert ingredients now include combinations such as chocolate and sea salt, of course chocolate mint, and even chocolate infused with alcoholic flavors.
Obviously, the flavors in the dessert category as with any other category cannot be static. Flavors are being borrowed from other influences. This ranges from mixed cocktails to the natural fruit flavors swayed by trends in Hispanic foods and experimentation with sour or tart tastes rather than sweet.
The most popular new dessert flavor introductions between 2014 and 2015 have been citrus and passion fruit, while the flavors showing the most rapid rise across all foodservice venues include toffee and rum. The most mainstream of flavors have been vanilla bean, and “tart,” which could again include citrus.
However, let’s not forget the “mature” flavors, the old standbys that foodservice customers choose when passion fruit may seem a bit too exotic. Not surprisingly, the most popular mature flavors remain chocolate (and its variations) at a whopping 67 percent of choices and vanilla (as opposed to vanilla bean) at 51 percent of choices.
The category is alive and very well. Best of all, the dessert profit center continues to grow.
Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for Parts 2-4 of our Foodservice Dessert Trends Series on in-sight
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