Few things are more synonymous with breakfast treats than muffins. Muffins continue to be a popular breakfast bakery item and it’s easy to understand why. Be it sweet or savory, the versatility of muffins can please any palate.
But can muffins keep up with the ever-changing variety of flavors, not to mention shifting health trends? Experts say yes.
“Muffins for the most part remain a traditional mainstay within the bakery offering,” says Stephen Chavez, technical product manager for BakeMark. “However, we do continue to see non-traditional flavors being combined with muffins to create new flavor varieties. This includes guava, mango, ginger, and even jackfruit.”
Chavez says there is an increased demand for what’s different and interesting, yet still familiar and comforting. Popular flavors include tres leches, maple, cinnamon, cherry, and orange.
“Many times, these flavors are trending within food and beverage overall and we’re seeing bakers capitalize on the awareness and demand,” he says. “We are also seeing a rise in ethnic twists, such as a tres leches muffin or an ube muffin. There are a lot of ethnic flavors that fit well within a muffin and it helps to innovate and expand the customer base as well.”
Others agree, pointing out that bakers can and should take advantage of fresh and seasonal produce when available.
“Bakers should augment their selection fresh with relevant, regional seasonal flavors throughout the year,” says Jayne Kearney, director of marketing for Bake’n Joy. “Make center stage flavors newly in season like peach and mandarin orange, followed by fresh strawberries and the many other berry varieties that follow: raspberry, blackberry, and of course, blueberry; all wonderful either in combination with one another or as a standalone flavor.”
She even recommends special programs to highlight those flavors.
“Muffin of the Month programs as well as quarterly rotations of flavors that capture the best of what Mother Nature has to offer are solid ways to appeal to consumer tastes.”
It’s not all about what’s in the muffin, however. What goes on top is equally important. Bakeries are also experimenting more with different seeds and grains to enhance textures and eating experiences, such as chia and hemp.
“Bakers can put their own twist on these traditional varieties to differentiate from competitors.” Kearney says. “Simple finishings like cinnamon streusel, a dollop of crème cheese frosting, or caramel drizzle will do the trick. Round out the holiday season with flavors like cranberry walnut, gingerbread, and chocolate mint.”
When it comes to sweet versus savory, muffins tend to lean more on the sweet side of the spectrum, but there is definitely increased interest in savory toppings or inclusions, including jalapeño, bacon, and cheese, says Chavez.
One of the keys to driving new sales is to ramp up trial through sampling. As customers walk into a bakery, make them aware of your new muffin varieties and be sure to offer samples, says Chavez.
“Many times, customers know what they want but sampling is a great way to introduce them to something new they didn’t know they liked,” he says. “Chances are they will still purchase the bakery treat they were craving, but now they may add a muffin or two to their order.
Another challenge is that bakers are looking for new ideas to revitalize the muffin category. Most consumers don’t think of a muffin when trying to satisfy a sweet craving, so the challenge is where to find the next flavor or concept to test and introduce.
Current health lifestyle trends (think gluten-free, keto, vegan, etc.) also leave many bakers trying to keep up with the times. Consumers continue to drive the need for ingredients and flavors that they are familiar with, and less for artificial, unfamiliar additives, says Chavez.
“For the consumers seeking better-for-you type foods, we have seen increased demand for clean label and vegan options,” he says. “This is mainly being driven by the health-conscious consumers who tend to frequent grocery chains and food service outlets for muffins.”
To help retail bakeries keep up with new, increasing demand, BakeMark has a wide-range portfolio to meet the demand, whether bakers need flour and other commodities for scratch baking or mixes and bases for convenient formats to support freshly made muffins. This includes gluten-free muffins, as well as a clean label Crème Cake mix for making clean label muffins and loaf cakes.
“As more and more consumers seek out healthier options, the majority still love to indulge,” Chavez explains. “When looking at the retail bakery space, the demand for better-for-you muffins is not as strong. The majority of consumers still prefer the good old-fashioned blueberry muffin, poppy seed muffin, banana nut, etc.”
“There is still a behavioral gap between what consumers say and what they actually do when it comes to food and living a ‘healthy’ lifestyle. Consumers want to treat themselves with a tasty indulgence every now and then,” Kearney says. “The key is understanding that when they do go for that sweet treat, it has to be fresh, taste amazing, and forget about the super-size – a smaller portion size is perfectly acceptable and often more appealing because it carries less guilt.”
Regardless of what is in or on the muffins, freshness is key.
“Freshness and wholesome, great tasting muffins continue to remain supreme in the category. Bake shops, cafés, and instore retail bakery departments that bake fresh on premise, and bake fresh throughout the day, have the advantage in winning customer preference,” she says. “Bakery purchases tend to be impulse in nature, and the best way to prod the impulse urge is by appealing to as many senses as possible. The aroma of fresh cinnamon or blueberries wafting in the air, and the sight of those magnificent muffins being put into the display case right before your very eyes, are enough to send you over the bakery edge.”