Dessert trends: Savory flavors, snackable indulgences, global inspiration

CHICAGO — One of the fastest growing ingredients on dessert menus is bacon. You read that right.

The breakfast staple surged 137% on dessert menus over the past four years, according to a new report from Datassential. Other savory flavors showing up in sweets include olive oil (up 154%), pretzel (110%), herbs (49%), bourbon (46%) and spicy (38%).

Traditional treats such as cake, ice cream, cheesecake and cookies remain the most popular dessert items on menus, but non-traditional dessert flavors are growing faster than most fruit flavors, Datassential said.

“You’re seeing more olive oil in desserts,” said Jennifer Aranas, a chef and senior project manager at Datassential. “It allows you to swap out oils that are neutral in flavor with something that has an added complexity and perceived health benefits.

“For bacon, it’s the magic ingredient for everything. It’s already in soups, sandwiches, entrees, salads, and appetizers, but it’s not yet ubiquitous in desserts.”

Another finding from the report reveals more consumers are indulging in desserts as a snack between meals, particularly frozen items. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents reported eating frozen desserts between meals within the two weeks prior to the survey.

“I think it satiates a craving, not hunger,” Ms. Aranas said. “People crave something either salty or something sweet. These are the things that people already have in their freezer or that they can buy easily in a single pack, in an individual portion at a convenience store, or at a kiosk — things that are really easy to buy.”

Cookies are also a popular snackable indulgence, and trending types include macarons, gluten-free, caramel and coconut. Cookies have grown on restaurant menus across all segments, now found in 70% of fast-casual restaurants, 50% of quick-service restaurants, 22% of casual dining restaurants and 15% of fine dining restaurants.

Restaurants are offering more dessert options than four years ago, featuring an average of 8 to 13 desserts on a menu. Additionally, dessert is included on 9 out of 10 U.S. menus overall. Nearly half of restaurant operators offer grab-and-go desserts, a key opportunity for brands to capitalize on the dessert snacking occasion, Datassential said, highlighting handheld pies, cake pops, grab-and-go milkshakes and cheesecake bites as examples.

Other opportunities for operators are gluten- and dairy-free dessert offerings, miniature desserts and authentic ethnic desserts. Items such as baklava, churro and mochi ice cream are emerging on menus, and 4 in 10 consumers are interested in such globally inspired indulgences.

Datassential also noted a number of hybrid desserts popping up in recent years, including the famous Cronut and subsequent donut-croissant at Dunkin’ Donuts, a Hostess Ding Dong Ice Cream Sandwich offered at Carl’s Jr., and an Oreo Red Velvet Milkshake at Steak n’ Shake.