Cake continues to be one of the most commonly consumed desserts in the United States, as 15% of consumers report that their last dessert consumed was cake, according to Datassential research for Dawn Foods. Of note, females and Gen Z consumers are more likely to have chosen cake.

Despite not being an everyday item, the market for cake is strong. More than half of operators report that cakes are one of their top-three selling items, and nearly a third report an increase in cake sales over the past year, according to Datassential research.

Operators see an opportunity to increase the number of cakes on their menu. Additionally, market demand exists to incorporate seasonal flavors into offerings, which provides an opportunity for Dawn Foods to introduce new cake mixes.

With these trends in mind, Dawn has launched the innovative Cake Co-Creation Project, working with four leading retail bakery customers located in four major geographic areas of the country. The project kicked off on April 30 at the Dawn Innovation Studio in Jackson, Michigan. The culmination of the project will take place with the unveiling of new cake flavors from Dawn at the upcoming International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) set for Sept. 8-11 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

On the first day at the Dawn Innovation Studio, Dawn’s senior bakery application chef Melissa Trimmer addressed the retail bakery owners with an inspirational message: “Today is the day we get to dream and be creative.” Attendees smelled flavor samples, learned the latest consumer research and tasted unique flavor combinations of macarons prepared by Trimmer and her culinary team.

Stephanie Hart, owner of Brown Sugar Bakery in Chicago, says she’s thrilled to be part of the Dawn Co-Creation project because the “baking industry has been stagnant. This project gives me confidence. I’m really excited about Dawn as a company, and this whole rad movement has got me excited.”

Their goal is to work in partnership with Dawn to select the next on-trend flavors for hi-ratio cakes. According to Dawn, 89% of artisan bakeries would like new cake flavors, and 74% are seeking trend and recipe ideas.

“It’s been a long time since red velvet was introduced,” Trimmer says. “We think it’s time to bring innovative cake flavors to market. And regionally, there are taste differences, so it’s important that everyone have a spot at the table.”

Flavor nuances

Ideation sessions at the Dawn Innovation Studio led to creative discussions about on-trend flavors.

Understanding the nuances of flavor profiles helps set the stage for flavor innovation. On the opening day of the Cake Co-Creation Project, Mother Murphy’s presented a deep dive in flavors, grouping them in four distinct categories: brown, fruit, fruit and floral, and spice and heat.

In the brown category, these are flavors containing any of caramelized sugar, browned butter, sweet brown sugar, chocolate or roasted notes. This includes brittles, toffees, coffees, caramels and chocolates. A maple praline flavor profile, for example, features nutty, brown sugar, woody, candied maple, with a sweet pistachio finish. Fruit flavors impart the profile of any type of fruit (citrus, stone fruits, berries, melons or tropicals) or combinations of fruit and other food. Fruit and floral flavors contain any combination of a fruit or floral or herbal flavor, such as lime basil or limoncello lavender.

The spice and heat category consists of flavors that contain a combination of spices, notes and other flavors. These may contain spicy hot notes, as well, such as spicy Mexican chocolate.

According to Datassential, key dessert flavors at restaurants that serve dessert featuring flavors in both the brown and fruit categories including the following top three in each category:

2018 market penetration, 4-year growth


Chocolate 70.2% +5%
Cinnamon 21.4% +10%
Salted Caramel 7.0% +136%


Strawberry 25.7% +6%
Raspberry 14.7% +7%
Lime 10.1% +2%

Consumer trends

Dawn's Melissa Trimmer (right) shares creative flavor combination ideas with bakers.

Jenny LaPaugh, senior director of regional and artisanal channel marketing for Dawn Foods, points out that today’s consumers love to experiment when it comes to food, a key trend in the marketplace. One secret to success, she says, is to pair something very familiar with something new — “that’s going to take you where you want to go.”

Knowing the influential consumer trends helps inform, inspire and spark successful ideas.

Carrie Jones-Barber, chief executive officer of Dawn Foods, says the spirit of the Dawn Cake Co-Creation Project is to enable retail bakery customers to have a say in what the next on-trend cake flavors from Dawn Foods will be.

“You all are the inspiration for us,” Barber said during the April 30 presentation at the Dawn Innovation Studio. “You bring your passion and innovation to work every day.”

According to Datassential research presented to Dawn and its retail bakery customers, 28% of consumers are interested in savory flavor in desserts, while 49% of operators either offer or are interested in offering savory in ingredients in their desserts. Olive oil, for example, has seen a 19-times increase in dessert menu penetration over the past decade.

Further, 59% of operators either offer or are interested in offering desserts with “free-from” descriptors while 26% of consumers are very interested or interested in this trend. Vegan desserts, for instance, have grown six-fold on menus in the past 10 years.

In another key trend, 54% of consumers are interested in cookies as ingredients in desserts. Similarly, 57% of operators offer these desserts or are open to offering them. Cookie crumbs and crumbles, for instance, have seen a 33% increase in menu penetration.

Desserts with alcohol pique the interest of 30% of consumers, and 35% of operators offer these desserts or are open to offering them. Over the past decade, whiskey-infused desserts have increased 58% on menus.

Also, 41% of consumers are very interested or interested in global desserts, while 55% of operators offer them or would be interested in offering them. The French macaron, for example, has had a 13-times increase in penetration in the past 10 years. Two ethnic dessert types, the affogato and the pot de crème, are the fastest-growing dishes on American dessert menus.