Mini desserts go big

Mignon cakes from Hendrickx in Chicago.

The latest foodservice research reveals that consumers love dessert, as nearly two-thirds of Americans indulge on dessert at least once a week. While most customers tend to favor standard sweets like cookies, cakes and pies, many seek to finish their restaurant meals with something new, according to Technomic's Dessert Consumer Trend Report.

The study encourages foodservice brands to strike a balance between traditional and more innovative offerings, such as miniature desserts that appeal to younger consumers who order them as snacks, meal replacements or a lower-calorie treat.

Mini donuts are a major trend on the dessert tables of office parties and weddings from Chicago to New Jersey, according to a number of retail bakery owners. Firecakes in Chicago offers fun flavors like Valrhona Chocolate & Espresso Cream and Maple Glazed Pineapple & Bacon mini donuts for about $2 apiece.

Chef Renaud Hendrickx of Belgian bakery Hendrickx in Chicago produces a splendorous array of petite sweets that include Éclairs (classic or extreme chocolate) for $4.25 and Mignon cakes (dark chocolate, pistachio, mocha, Belgian speculoos or raspberry) for $6.50 apiece. Hendrickx also specializes in tartelettes, which come in lemon, apple or strawberry/blueberry, for $5.95, and a variety of flavorful croissants including cherry flavor.

Local ingredients play well to the mini sweets trend. Pastry chef Erica Tomei of The Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center in Chicago creates a variety of signatures, such as her renowned honey-infused concepts that incorporate fresh honey harvested from beehives located on hotel grounds.  Her honey wedding cake, honey truffle, and honey scone have all received national notoriety. 

Above the individual assets Tomei brings to the table, she gives the resort an in-house scratch bakery that can be promoted across several business segments, from the planned patisserie retail outlet to the weekly wedding reception. The Chicago native describes her style as modern classic. “Simply put, I take classic desserts and find ways to distinctively reinvent them with a contemporary twist.”

Incremental dessert sales, and thus higher check averages, could result from brands taking risks and putting a new twist on an old standby, such as the Boston Kreme Croissant Donut at Dunkin' Donuts or the Strawberry Nachos at Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom, according to Technomic.

"Refreshing the dessert menu can land a restaurant in that sweet spot of appealing to consumers who love to order their favorites as well as a new set of diners excited about new flavors," says Kelly Weikel, Technomic’s director of consumer insights. "Brands can't go wrong with a well-executed brownie or sundae, but they could also pile on the incremental sales if they think up different ways to pitch dessert, from an afternoon pick-me-up to a flight of several small treats."

The Dessert Consumer Trend Report also reveals that 58 percent of desserts are purchased on impulse and 34 percent of consumers say they are more likely to order dessert if a smaller-portion option is available.

Today's most preferred desserts are brownies (67 percent), apple pie (65 percent) and chocolate cake (59 percent). Among Top 500 chains, caramel, carrot and vanilla are the fastest-growing flavors of baked goods.