Consumer Trends

Desserts play it safe—most of the time

When it comes to finishing off a meal with something sweet, most restaurants offer a menu of familiar favorites. But within those favorites, pastry chefs and dessert pros allow themselves to get a bit adventurous.

In its 2012 trends forecast, Mintel predicted that desserts will not change so much in form as they will in flavor. Leaning on time-tested classics like cake or ice cream, dessert makers are moving toward more ethnic-influenced flavors, adapting to a change in the public’s flavor preferences. Using familiar ingredients and forms is a way to build upon favorites and still reflect changing consumer interests.

The National Restaurant Association’s Chef Survey mainly agrees with this assessment, but pointed to some edgier trends as well. According to “What’s Hot in 2012,” these are the top trends to watch in the dessert category:

  • Artisan/house-made ice cream
  • Bite-size or mini desserts
  • Savory desserts
  • Deconstructed classic desserts
  • Dessert flights/combos
  • Gelato/sorbet
  • Cupcakes
  • Fruit desserts (e.g. cobblers, crisps)
  • Lollipops
  • Granitas
  • Cotton candy/marshmallows
  • Macarons
  • Pies

Another trend: Desserts don't have to be saved for last. Offering desserts as more than just an after-dinner option can help persuade cash-strapped customers to treat themselves. Dessert options can and should be positioned as snacks. Repositioning dessert as appropriate for all times of day can get away from the frugality that sometimes comes at the end of a meal.

As we head into 2013, it will be interesting to see where America’s collective sweet tooth is leading consumers and chefs. 


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