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How Sweet It Is!

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Frozen cheesecake, sweet goods, pies, and other frozen desserts are all up double digits since 2019, as dessert becomes a more everyday occasion.

While most frozen subcategories have registered losses versus the same 12-week period a year ago, both the cheesecake (+7.6%) and sweet goods (+7.7%) segments continue to gain ground, reports Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). And compared to the same stretch in 2019, sales in the two subcategories are up a whopping 57.4% and 37.9%, respectively. Even the frozen pie segment, whose sales tumbled 8.0% during the 12 weeks ended June 13, is up double digits (+14.1%) from 2019. What’s driving frozen dessert growth? “During the pandemic, consumers learned to take time out to treat themselves — outside holidays and large gatherings — and liven up their everyday,” answers Jaylon Rosenblum, director of marketing at Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands, maker of the Edwards and Mrs. Smith’s lineups. That behavior is especially evident in the sweet goods category where top 10 brands like TruFru, Delizza and Poppies that offer bite-size or mini snacks are still growing. “We see that [everyday] indulgence as a form of self-care, a way for consumers to find some joy during a very stressful year,” adds Rosenblum.

‘Sugar management has become ubiquitous across the store. But unlike other pockets of health and wellness demand, it’s continued to see significant growth as consumers gravitate toward low-carb and keto lifestyles.’

But manufacturers don’t expect things to change anytime soon, citing the beginning of a new Roaring ‘20s-type period. As restrictions are lifted, “Consumers will want to be with family and friends and continue to celebrate… in both big and small ways,” says Susan Allen, senior VP of marketing at St. Paul, Minn.-based Dessert Holdings (dessertholdings.com), which owns the Atlanta Cheesecake Co., Original Cakerie and Lawler’s Desserts brands. While smaller, single-serve and bite-size frozen desserts extremely popular during the pandemic will continue to resonate with shoppers, “We will see the comeback of larger desserts, too, as consumers expand their entertaining circles,” she reports. While multi-serve cheesecake is already starting to roar back, manufacturers are also keeping a close eye on the multi-serve pie segment, which boasts a three-year CAGR of 4.9%, according to IRI. Within that space, however, cream pies are leading the way with a 7.1% three-year CAGR, thanks in part to last year’s introduction of some new on-trend varieties by Conagra-owned Marie Callender’s (mariecallenders.com).

CHEESECAKE ‘ON FIRE’

While all frozen desserts did well during the pandemic, cheesecake, in particular, has been “on fire,” partly because it’s not easy for novice bakers to make at home, says Allen. That’s one reason it’s such a popular restaurant dessert choice, she adds. But with restaurants shuttered, many consumers opted for frozen cheesecake instead, especially New York style, which can be easily customized by adding fruit or a fancy sauce. “We’ve seen significant growth in this core flavor,” says Allen, though she also reports strong gains by both seasonal and non-traditional flavors like chocolate, which is No. 2 on restaurant menus but still has room to grow at retail. While Dessert Holdings is meeting demand for new flavors on the private label side, Schwan’s is doing the same on the branded. Building on the success of its Edwards Original Whipped Cheesecake (edwardsdesserts.com), the company is rolling out both Chocolate Whipped Cheesecake (with layers of chocolate and classic cheesecake topped with chocolate chunks) and Berry Whipped Cheesecake (featuring ribbons of blackberry and raspberry swirl), both on a fresh-baked cookie crumb crust. Schwan’s is also adding a new Lemon Crème Pie to its expansive Edwards cream pie lineup, reports Rosenblum.

Wholly Wholesome offers frozen allergy-friendly Gluten-Free Brownies that are also certified vegan.

The product will be available both as a full pie and in two-slice packages, so it can be enjoyed every day, not just on special occasions. The Perla Company (theperlacompanyusa.com), Brooklyn, N.Y., had the same idea when it introduced a retail package of its award-winning Italian Puff Pastries. Made in Italy with all-natural ingredients and no preservatives, hydrogenated fat, trans fats, artificial flavors or yeast, the super-premium pastries are served in many fine restaurants around the world, says vp of sales Terry Brunt. “But we saw customers gravitating toward high-end restaurant-quality items they could make at home.” Offered in six-count packages, the take-and-bake frozen desserts “fill a huge void in retailers’ frozen dessert sets for authentic European pastry,” he adds. Available flavors include Light Custard Cream, Dark Chocolate and Apple. Although dessert isn’t the occasion where most consumers choose to eat healthy, some have no choice. “I think keto and paleo will plateau because anything targeted to weight loss is difficult to sustain,” says Doon Wintz, founder of Chester, N.J.-based Wholly Wholesome (whollywholesome.com). “But gluten-free isn’t a diet; it’s a necessity for many consumers,” so it’s here to stay. However, 40% of people with food allergies suffer from more than one. “So we expect more growth in allergy-friendly desserts.” To meet that need, Wholly Wholesome recently rolled out a gluten-free, allergy-friendly plant-based brownie that’s also certified vegan. The frozen version comes in a five-count box so moms can throw one in their child’s lunchbox each morning. “There are a ton of gluten-free brownies out there, but there aren’t a lot free of other allergens, including eggs, that are also vegan, so there was a real need to fill,” says Wintz. Now Wholly Wholesome is working to create a similar package of its allergy-friendly vegan chocolate chip cookies, which is expected to hit freezers sometime next year.

OPPORTUNITIES IN PLANT-BASED FROZEN DESSERTS

The fact that the two desserts are also vegan is an added bonus that broadens their appeal, says Wintz. “The bloom is off the rose in plant-based ice cream,” he explains, citing too many different brands of the same product. “I think frozen desserts will take over some of the space devoted to plant-based ice cream as the pendulum swings back.” While brands like truwhip (truwhip.com) and Reddi-Wip (reddiwip.com) have launched plant-based whipped toppings in recent years, the newest better-for-you items in that segment are targeting sugar. “Sugar management has become ubiquitous across the grocery store,” says Katrina Vanacora, brand manager, sweet and snacks, at Chicago-based Conagra. “But unlike some other pockets of health and wellness demand, it’s continued to see significant growth (+7% three-year CAGR) as consumers gravitate toward low-carb and keto lifestyles.” However, she continues, there are no nationally available branded offerings in the refrigerated category that are compatible with low-carb and keto diets. To give those consumers an alternative, Conagra is launching Reddi-wip Zero Sugar this month, she reports. Made with real cream and no artificial flavors, it contains 0 grams of sugar, 0 carbs and 15 calories per serving. On the frozen side, meanwhile, Troy, Ohio-based Peak Foods introduced truwhip Keto late last year. Sweetened with monkfruit and allulose, it contains 1 gram of net carbs, no sugar and 25 calories per serving, according to the company.

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the editor of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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