What are some of the trends you’re seeing in the dessert space today?
The smaller, bite-sized portions, or the flights or the samplers, are a trend in order for people to have portion control, to have variety, to try different things on the menu. I think some of the flavors that are still more traditional flavors, or comfort foods or comfort desserts, may still be trendy as well, and might or might not be able to be customized on the menu. One other thing we’re seeing quite a bit is drinks as desserts, as well.
What sort of outside-the-box ingredients or platforms are possible with dessert?
I think we saw some of those trends this year and the last couple of years, especially with bacon or any sort of smoked pork product. And you’re seeing the savory note added to dessert, as well as heat items, whether it’s chili or hot sauce, or sriracha or ghost pepper, or whatever that is—some sort of heat associated with sweet.
What are some of the biggest challenges operators are facing with dessert?
It depends on what they’re going to be doing, especially with the health and wellness factor. If they want to play into that, they could try to use fresher fruit or fresher ingredients. But sometimes those can demand a greater price point on their menu, so the challenge is if consumers want to pay for that. Another challenge is versatility around your menu. I think we’re seeing consumers today snacking on desserts throughout the dayparts. So it’s a utilization not just at dinner time, but through breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it transforms your dessert menu into more of a snack that they can use. Also, another challenge is cross-utilization of ingredients that are already on your menu, whether that’s a pancake as a wrapper for dessert or whatever that might be . It’s making sure your existing SKUs are being used throughout the day.
We’re having the same challenges that the operator is with commodity pricing, especially in dairy products and others that fluctuate so much. We try to maintain a steady cost there. Also, especially as we’re moving toward health and wellness, the fresher items have shelf-life issues. In the end, right now, the consumer will only pay so much money for a dessert, so you can only push the limit so far right now.
With traditional dessert flavors and ingredients, like chocolate or vanilla, what are some ways you can innovate?
One is the globalization of chocolate, whether it’s infused with vanilla or cinnamon from Mexico, or chili peppers, or Chinese spices from Asia. Whatever that might be, it’s just a variation on that same flavor, and maybe using it in a different manner, as well. Instead of an ingredient, use chocolate as a spice topping—so instead of chopped herbs or salt, it could be a sprinkling of a flavored chocolate on top of something.
What is your advice for operators looking to add a dessert menu or refresh an existing one?
Some sort of branding or cobranding on your desserts is very attractive to the consumer. Also, with the quick-service space as it is, I suggest some sort of portability in the dessert—something unique, whether it’s a push pop or a cake pop or something like that, where people can take it with them and eat it on the go. Again, they should make it accessible across all dayparts, as well.
How can operators make sure their dessert menus are cost efficient?
You can command a bigger price for freshness. And make sure you’re selling it across your whole menu. Maybe if their expertise is in sandwiches or something like that and not necessarily in desserts, they could always reach out to manufacturers such as us for ideas on how to keep those costs down. Because that’s our specialty, not necessarily theirs.
What sorts of dessert trends do you see coming down the pike?
One of the big things is going to be the health and wellness factors, where that’s going to go, what that’s going to be. Operators should definitely be looking at that right now; even if customers aren’t buying that, operators should be looking at it. People still gravitate toward traditional desserts, but I think with the younger generations coming up and with the globalization of flavors, one of the challenges is coming up with new, innovative desserts or traditional desserts with a twist, or some sort of global flavors that are easily identified by a quick-service consumer.