New research from Cargill finds consumers want the best of both worlds – indulgence and health – and they’re willing to pay more for baked goods that deliver on both attributes.  

The Sweet Delight – Decoding Consumer Bakery Decisions research surveyed 1,200 U.S. consumers to understand the unmet needs and motivations that drive consumer purchase behaviors related to cakes, pastries, and cookies. The proprietary study not only looked at what consumers say they do but revealed the why behind their purchase decisions, including their expectations around textures, packaging claims, ingredients and more.

Among its findings, the Cargill research confirmed indulgence remains the most important purchase trigger for cake, pastry and cookie purchases, outweighing barriers such as weight gain, health or diet considerations.

“What we can say is that we saw from the brand mapping analysis that there are a lot of opportunities for store brands and branded players – especially when it comes to consumer association and perception regarding top innovation platforms, such as ‘premium indulgence,’ ‘fresh from the oven’ and ‘better for you.’ In particular, we saw opportunities for both brands and private labels to differentiate by focusing on the most sought-after textures, claims and ingredients specific to each of those platforms,” explains Ana Ivanovic, global marketing insights manager, Cargill.

As for actionable responses recommended for retail bakers, Cargill found “premium indulgence” and “fresh from the oven” were the two platforms with the biggest opportunity for the general population.

“For both platforms, our research suggests it’s important to deliver on the right texture first, though key claims and ingredients aren’t far behind,” Ivanovic explains. “For example, the most appealing textures for ‘premium indulgence’ are creamy, buttery and rich, paired with the need for clean label (such as non-GMO and all-natural claims) and traceability of ingredients. For ‘fresh from the oven,’ it’s more about moist, gooey and flakey textures coupled with locally sourced and traceability claims, alongside all-natural positioning.”

Finally, if bakeries are looking to elevate more healthier, ‘’better for you’’ product assortments, consider starting with cakes. Of the bakery sub-segments included in Cargill’s research, cakes delivered the biggest opportunity to trigger consumer interest and willingness to pay.  

Within the “better for you” innovation platform, Cargill suggests focusing first on the inclusion of high priority ingredients, followed by the right set of claims,” Ivanovic said.

“In our research, some of the most sought-after ingredients included fiber, pre/probiotics, grains, vitamins, omega 3s, protein and iron, while key claims centered on low calories and sugar content,” Ivanovic noted.

Finding products that are tasty and that consumers perceive as more nutritious can be a real challenge.

“It’s also worth noting that there’s a blurry line between Indulgence and health. Our research revealed that consumers still desire clean label, signaled by cues such as all-natural and non-GMO, and low/reduced calories claim even from ‘premium indulgence’ products,” Ivanovic said. “So, these claims are not reserved only for ‘better for you’ or ‘guilt-free indulgence’ platforms. Consumers want it all!”

Highlighting the continuing importance of label-friendly formulation, Cargill’s research found consumers viewed ingredients as most influential to their purchase decision (42%).