Sweeten Up Sales.
Retailers could attract customer interest to store brand desserts with more premium options, healthful ingredients and the right marketing efforts.
Americans mighty love sweets, but that doesn't mean we are all eating dessert. In fact, according to The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm, we are eating fewer desserts than ever before. Data from the company's 29th annual "Eating Patterns in America" report, released in November 2014, show that only 12 percent of home dinners are followed by a dessert. The report even suggests that, based on statistics, the last dessert could be served on Feb. 27, 2054.
So why are more Americans forsaking the pleasure of dessert? One reason is that it is another meal-part they don't want to have to prepare or clean up.
"The trend in American homes is about one-dish meals," says Harry Balzer, senior vice president with NPD and author of the report. "Americans have been steadily cutting back the number of items served at a main meal, and dessert ranks fourth on the list for a meal after the main dish, vegetable and starch. Having dessert makes the whole meal more complicated."
But dessert hasn't completely disappeared from the mealtime occasion. People are still eating dessert, but not in the traditional ways.
"We're currently seeing a lot of dessert trends that reflect the changing tastes and desires of consumers," says a spokesperson for Jackson, Mich.-based Dawn Food Products, which produces a wide array of dessert products for private labeling.
One such trend is the desire for indulgence. If people are going to treat themselves to the extra calories in dessert, they want desserts that are really worth it.
"Desserts are all about satisfaction. A dessert, regardless of type -- pies, cakes, Danish or donuts -- needs to satisfy," says Mike Pinkowski, president of Rochester, N.Y.-based SatisPie LLC, a manufacturer of a variety of branded and private label pies. "A flavorless product that doesn't hit a taste mark isn't going to sell."
One word that retailers wanting to convey store brand indulgence should have in mind is "premium," meaning products with higher-quality ingredients. According to a recent analysis of store brand ice cream and dessert launches conducted by Manchester, UK-based Gama, a business information firm specializing in fast-moving consumer goods, the interest in premium dessert products is being seen globally.
"Even if they may trade down in other areas, consumers will still look to treat themselves through "affordable luxuries' such as confectionery and desserts, which is perhaps why premiumization in these categories is able to remain resilient," says Tom Warden, editorial director at the firm. "You can't just rely on simple or one-dimensional flavors, and this goes for private label too."
The Dawn Food Products spokesperson seconds the need for retailers to go beyond the ordinary, pointing out hybrid desserts such as its Vortex cake, a combination of cake and brownie, as a way to capture consumer interest. One growing trend is "the curiosity for adventurous yet familiar options," the spokesperson points out. "Consumers are interested in experiencing new flavor and texture combinations that haven't been seen before in their desserts."
With many consumers, notably millennials, increasingly interested in ethnic foods, store brand dessert products featuring global flavors could also be a win for retailers in this category.
"Have authentic specialties from different regions of the world, rather than the big size, [which is] already-seen [in] New York-style cheesecakes," advises Ivan Manfredi, CEO of Italy-based Emilia Foods, which produces a range of private label desserts, pizzas and entr'es.
Just as consumers don't want artificial ingredients in other foods, the same goes with dessert.
"All the majors are producing products that have ingredients consumers can't pronounce or don't want to eat," Pinkowski says. "A clean-label store branded program offers a better-quality product and consumer-recognized value."
The Gama analysis also reflects growing consumer desire for healthful products, with 6 percent of global new dessert launches in a recent 18-month time period featuring a low-fat claim, a percent higher than the number of food launches overall including the claim.
"Despite the dominant emphasis on indulgence, health is still an important driver of innovation in ice cream and desserts as well," Warden says, pointing to Rich Products Corp.'s recent launch of cakes and cupcakes infused with Greek frozen yogurt under its Jon Donaire brand as an example of that innovation.
So how could retailers give the impression that their store brand desserts are healthful? According to the Dawn Food Products spokesperson, they could offer "free-from" products featuring the absence of ingredients such as gluten or artificial ingredients, as well as "plus-some" products containing added beneficial ingredients such as extra fiber, protein or real fruit.
Manfredi agrees that retailers need to have simpler, cleaner ingredients, even for dessert.
"It may be an indulgence, but more than ever, consumers are looking at the ingredient list," he says. "GMO-free, organic and gluten-free are bigger claims than in the past."
Another means of providing health-conscious consumers with a way to indulge is offering portion-controlled sizes such as mini-Bundt cakes or precut sheet cakes, the Dawn Food Products spokesperson notes.
"When consumers want something sweet, a single serving or smaller size lets them indulge while also giving them control," the spokesperson says.
In addition to adding a greater perception of health, smaller portion sizes or mini desserts also provide more convenience to consumers who want dessert without any hassles.
Even the most indulgent or healthful cake or pie is not going to sell if the merchandising or packaging is poorly executed.
"On a day-to-day basis, retailers should ensure their dessert cases are fully stocked with fresh and visually appealing products to entice their customers," the Dawn Food Products spokesperson stresses.
And the packaging should provide an authentic presentation of the dessert, even if that product is frozen. As Pinkowski points out, the photography on many dessert products such as name-brand cherry pies can be misleading, with all of the cherries, for example, looking identical.
"It's pure Photoshop, and when you bake and cut the pie, it's not going to look like that. That drives consumers nuts," he says. "Consumers expect real these days, no artificial ingredients or presentations of the product, and private label has to deliver this as well."
Retailers should also consider displays for seasonal products based on flavors such as pumpkin and peppermint.
"Products that are decorated with fun seasonal designs and organized in a festive display can spur impulse purchases to help drive sales," the Dawn Food Products spokesperson says.
Do consider the indulgence and better-for-you trends in the development of new desserts.
Don't be boring -- consider hybrid desserts and treats with ethnic touches.
Do call out the absence of undesired ingredients and the addition of desirable ones.
Don't mislead consumers when it comes to on-pack dessert photography.
Look what's new
Irresistibles New York Style Chocolate Covered Mini Cheesecake Bites from Montreal-based Metro Inc. are sold frozen and designed to be thawed in the refrigerator. They retail in a 12-count (240g) recyclable box.
Belmont Premium Desserts Chocolate Chunk Cookie Cake from Batavia, Ill.-based ALDI Inc. is said to be a ready-to-eat, kosher-certified product that contains no high-fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils. The frozen product retails in a 30-oz. recyclable carton containing a PET tray.
New from The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, is Private Selection Salted Caramel Chocolate Almond Pie. It is said to feature layers of salted caramel, almonds and chocolate silk, covered with whipped topping. The refrigerated product retails in a 34-oz. domed PET tray.
Minneapolis-based Target Corp. introduced an individually boxed Archer Farms Salted Caramel Cupcake. The cupcake, also available in other varieties, is said to be naturally and artificially flavored. It retails in a 3.5-oz. windowed box.
New from Schnuck Markets Inc. is Culinaria Raspberry Sorbet. Said to be a refreshing sweet-tart sorbet with a burst of raspberry flavor, it can be enjoyed between courses to cleanse the palate or after any meal as dessert. Made with natural flavors, the premium product is free from gluten, fat and cholesterol. It is kosher-certified and retails in a 1-pt. carton.
Source: Mintel's Global New Products Database