Single-serves, better-for-you options and exciting flavors are all helping drive dollar growth.
Although units were down slightly across the board, dollar sales of frozen desserts/toppings jumped 8.2% during the 12 weeks ended June 12 to $214.0 million, reports Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). However, the frozen pie category didn’t fare as well: dollars fell 4.1% to $141.2 million across channels while units tumbled 17.3% — one of the worst performances in the entire frozen department (though top-seller Marie Callender’s continues to gain ground).
‘Find a message that represents your core values and seek brands that are clearly in line with those values.’
The good news is both categories are way ahead of where they were before the pandemic, which comes as no surprise to Daniel Hegg, senior marketing manager at Marshall, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands, owner of Edwards and Mrs. Smith’s. Pre-pandemic, he reports, fewer than 50 million consumers shopped the frozen desserts segment. Today, that figure sits at more than 54 million, including nearly 400,000 buyers who came to the category during the past 52 weeks. What’s the attraction?
Well, everyone’s looking for comfort food right now, and nothing’s more comforting than dessert. But Hegg says consumers are seeking products that are easy to prepare and serve, making frozen desserts — particularly frozen cheesecake — an increasingly popular choice.
Although the cheesecake subcategory stumbled during the most recent 12 weeks, dollar sales jumped 8.2% during the past year while units rose 2.6%. The sweet goods-no cheesecake subcategory also performed well during the past 52 weeks: up 10.6% and 1.5% in dollars and units, respectively. The growing availability of single-serves deserves at least some of the credit for that growth.
To help meet demand that shows no signs of slowing, Chicago-based Eli’s Cheesecake Co. introduced Eli’s Chi-Town Single Serve Cheesecake Slices at retailers nationwide Aug. 1. Made with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, the slices come in Original Plain, Chocolate Chip, Strawberry Swirl, Cookies & Cream, and Blueberry Swirl flavors. “They’re individually wrapped in our custom container and ready to sell,” says vp of marketing Debbie Marchok. To help the product “pop” at retail, the packaging features new graphics: the Chicago skyline, a whimsical Eli character icon, “and standout colors that showcase the popular flavors.”
St. Paul, Minn.-based Dessert Holdings, whose portfolio includes The Original Cakerie, Atlanta Cheesecake Co., Steven Charles and Lawler’s Desserts, is also expanding its line of pre-portioned, single-serve desserts, which got a big boost during the pandemic, according to senior vp of marketing Susan Allen. “We saw consumer demand rise from a quality and food safety standpoint,” she explains. “Items freshly made and pre-packaged [went] from our facility to the grocer’s bakery without anyone touching the cakes directly,” which is what consumers wanted. Combine that with the shift from desserts as special occasion treat to everyday indulgence and it’s no surprise that sales of single-serves have skyrocketed, especially among millennials, according to Allen.
The most recent addition to Dessert Holdings’ pre-packaged lineup is single-serve cakes in a variety of flavors, including Strawberry Shortcake and Tuxedo Truffle Mousse, plus “snackable” dessert bars and brownies. “These amazing desserts deliver big flavor and texture in just a few bites and feature a mashup of ingredients such as chocolate chips, brownie pieces or cookie layers” — another key category trend, according to Allen.
Single-serves are also big on the refrigerated side where Emeryville, Calif.-based Petit Pot offers 3.5-ounce jars of sweet, creamy pudding in traditional flavors. To keep up with consumer demand, the company is adding Pistachio and Orange Blossom Honey Rice to the mix.
“People are looking for more exciting flavors,” says Petit Pot founder Max Pouvreau. “Adding more flavors gives us more visibility on the shelf. More items attract more people and keep our current customers engaged.”
THE PIES HAVE IT
While consumers are searching for satisfying sweet desserts, they’re also looking for healthy options: All-natural, non-GMO, vegan and gluten-free.
“The rise in plant-based diets is starting to shape the dessert category, with many consumers looking for vegan versions of their favorite sweet treats,” says Rosa Dixon, co-founder and CEO of Eureka, Calif.-based Raised Gluten Free. “At the same time, we’re also seeing a trend toward nostalgic, feel-good comfort foods, like home-style apple pie or grandma’s strawberry rhubarb pie, but that are also easy to make.”
To meet those needs, Raised Gluten Free introduces old-fashioned Southern Peach Pie, featuring a delicate, flaky pastry crust filled with juicy peaches and brown sugar. “Like all of our small-batch, artisan desserts, the product is 100% vegan and certified gluten-free,” says Dixon.
Salem, Ore.-based Willamette Valley Pie Co. is also tapping into demand for better-for-you desserts with its new all-butter crust pies. “Premium ingredients are becoming very valuable to consumers, and there aren’t great options in the frozen dessert aisle,” says CEO Austin Kelly. “Leaning in to all-butter not only elevates the premium ingredients of our products, but brings the taste back home to grandma’s kitchen, since that’s the way she would bake her pies.” The newest addition to the line, All Butter Crust Dutch Caramel Apple, will be available at select retailers this month.
During the pandemic, many consumers discovered a love for scratch baking. But even home bakers are seeking healthier options, says Doon Wintz, founder of Chester, N.J.-based Wholly Wholesome. To help them bake up something better for them, the company will launch Wholly Wholesome Organic Pie/Pastry refrigerated dough pucks during the fourth quarter. Unlike traditional pre-rolled pie dough, the pucks allow bakers to create their own unique desserts. “They can cut it, or roll it, and then bake it,” says Wintz. Plus, “The puck does not take up a lot of space on the shelf. It reduces total packaging and gives consumers dough in a different format.”
DOES THE MIX REFLECT YOUR VALUES?
So how can retailers keep dessert category momentum going, especially in the face of skyrocketing inflation? It’s all about connecting with shoppers, says Josh Helland, senior vp of sales and marketing at Battleboro, N.C-based Delizza. “The key to achieving true and sustained sales velocity is to create a message that genuinely resonates with consumers. Any merchandising or promotions must evoke an emotional response in order to form a lasting connection with consumers,” he says.
“We identified markets where we had strong retailer support and distribution and launched an outdoor campaign — rare among frozen dessert manufacturers — that could effectively communicate our commitment to quality and providing a premium dessert experience,” which became a priority for many during the pandemic, he explains. The campaign produced a 19.2% increase in baseline sales after an initial run in Los Angeles, including huge increases in unit sales of the company’s 12-count macarons, 30-count mini eclairs, and 30-count mini cream puffs.
Helland’s advice to retailers: “Find a message that represents your core values and seek brands that are clearly in line with those values…. Effective sales, merchandising and promotions start with collaboration among stakeholders. You need the right brands in the right places with the right marketing tools.”