Just like the candy bars and packs of gum flanking check-out lines in supermarkets, the cake pops standing out from the pastry display at Starbucks encourage impulse buys. Busy diners are happy to oblige. And for even more speed and convenience, there are cup-holder-ready Timbit donut holes at Tim Horton’s drive-through windows.
As dessert moves into more settings and becomes its own eating occasion, operators are finding new ways to ensure sweets don’t get lost in the fast lane.
Make ‘em pop
“Taste and portability are core brand tenets at Taco Bell, so we always need to ensure that we deliver on those, as they’re integral to what our customers expect from our food,” notes Alec Boyle, public relations and brand engagement specialist at Taco Bell.
The brand made headlines by adding a line of portable desserts in 2012 and kept the buzz going when it tested Taco Bell’s Cap’n Crunch Delights early in 2015. The co-branded treat launched in this past July to much social-media fanfare.
“As a brand of firsts, we always want to ensure that we offer items that our customers can get only at Taco Bell,” Boyle says. “Our desserts don’t always need to strictly adhere to our Mexican-inspired heritage, but our customers definitely enjoy those types of offerings because they’re different from what they can get anywhere else.”
Mission accomplished. A portable take on the classic milk-and-cereal combo, Cap’n Crunch Delights are colorful and craveable with “milk frosting” filling the centers. Fans can buy two bites for a buck, a dozen for a crowd and a few other portions in between, all packaged in simple paper bags for on-the-go eating.
Affordability is important to grab-and-go treats, especially in limited-service setting, notes Julia Gallo-Torres, senior foodservice analyst Mintel, an international research firm with U.S. headquarters in Chicago.
“People are looking for those small treats they can add onto an order,” Gallo-Torres says. “They don’t want anything huge, and often they like shareable treats. I see this as one reason we’ve seen a big increase in cookies, which were up 13 percent between first quarter of 2012 and 2015 in our menu tracking.”
The bagged bite-sized cookies near the registers at sandwich chain Potbelly are one example of how packaged cookies are the new point-of-sale accessory. After all, one way to ensure diners don’t miss dessert is to make sure it’s staring them in the face.
Another example: Panera has glass display cases showcasing baked treats, but each store’s cash registers are also crowded with wrapped cookies and sweets. Drive-through signs put dessert front-and-center instead of tucking them in the corner as an afterthought. This type of promotion has helped make Taco Bell’s little sweets some big sellers.
“Our top-selling desserts are our Cinnabon Delights. Our customers love the sweet, poppable indulgence that they offer,” Boyle notes. “With that being said, all of our desserts are popular—our Cinnamon Twists and Caramel Empanada have amazing followings.”
Shrink it—and make it sweet
Gallo-Torres sees more potential for operators to borrow grab-and-go ideas from the regular menu to create portable desserts. She points to El Pollo Loco’s mini-cheesecake burritos and Del Taco’s caramel cheesecake bites as other fast food ideas that work with dessert.
Next up, Gallo-Torres predicts, are more “poppable” pies. Pie shows an 8 percent increase in menu mentions, while ice cream and cake have slowed down. “Mini-pies or hand pies are the next cupcake,” Gallo-Torres says. “Pies have a lot of what people want right now. They are traditional and comforting, yet every part of a pie, from the crust to the filling and topping, is open to interpretation.”
Just make sure those pies are built to move.
This post is sponsored by Sweet Street Desserts