In a December 2023 consumer survey from Datassential, 12 percent of consumers associated the spring season with special flavors, dishes and limited time offers (LTOs). While we transition from the doldrums of winter to the warm, sunny days of spring, it’s important to look at your menu and how you can bolster it with the bright colors and exciting flavors of the season.

Springtime holidays will play an important role in how bakeries customize their offerings. St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, Mother’s Day and other special events like graduations provide plenty of opportunities. In fact, Datassential finds that in the spring of 2023, over 1,100 new items, returning items and LTOs were released by major restaurant chains. The biggest month was April, with Easter taking place on April 9 last year.

The majority of consumers associate special flavors, dishes or limited-time menu releases in the spring with Easter and Passover (52 percent of those surveyed). The next closest were St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.

When many consumers think of spring, they think of fresh fruits and produce. Take advantage of fresh, in-season fruit. One of the most popular fruits and dominant flavor profiles this time of year is strawberry. In spring of 2023, strawberry appeared in 125 LTOs, new and returning items at major chains. For instance, McDonald’s launched a limited-edition Strawberry Shortcake McFlurry, made with vanilla soft-serve ice cream, strawberry-flavored clusters and crispy, buttery shortbread cookies.

“Strawberry is such a loved and delicious fruit, it’s easy to add it to baked goods that you’re already making,” says Melissa Trimmer, corporate executive chef and senior director of culinary & innovation studio for Dawn Foods. “For example, switch out your pies or tarts to fresh strawberry or use a whole fruit filling like Dawn Exceptional® Whole Strawberry Pie Filling which has large pieces of real fruit in it. I love to make strawberry tres leches where we fill the cake with strawberry filling, and then finish the cake with fresh strawberries on top! It has beautiful visual appeal and lets consumers know that spring is HERE!”

View a recipe and expert tips for Creamy Strawberry Tres Leches Cake

Speaking of frozen desserts, spring is not too soon to give customers something chilly to offset the warmer weather. While summer may be more widely associated with frozen desserts due to higher temperatures, concepts like shakes actually indexed highest last year in the spring. According to Datassential’s Launches & Ratings platform, 39 new, returning and limited-time shakes were launched at chains in the spring, while only 31 debuted in the summer. Frozen desserts pair well with a variety of flavors, especially fruits like the aforementioned strawberries, peach, pineapple, lemon and kiwi. Chocolate, caramel, OREO cookies and nuts are also popular inclusions.

“Ice cream sandwiches, frozen popsicles and ice cream are perennial favorites,” Chef Trimmer says. “However, my family absolutely adores milkshakes, and I think lots of other folks do, too! One way for bakeries to capitalize on this trend is for them to add their favorite bakery item to ice cream in the shake machine. Think fun ideas like fruit pie milkshakes, chocolate cake milkshakes or even birthday cake milkshakes! This is an easy was for bakeries to use up what is already on hand while delivering on consumers craving for milkshakes.”

View a recipe and expert tips for Birthday Cake Shakes

Younger generations are more open to getting food delivered for certain spring holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. This may not lend itself to frozen treats, but it does open the door for specialty cakes, cookies and donuts, portable sweets that can be easily customized for specific holidays and events. You can even consider offering special deals or items only available through delivery to pique consumer interest and drive traffic.

“Portable items are here to stay, and springtime favorites are no exception,” Chef Trimmer says. “I love the idea of using baked goods as a bouquet to celebrate milestone and spring holidays. Bakers can use cupcakes, donuts or sugar cookies decorated as flowers and arrange them artfully in packaging designed to emulate a flower bouquet – then upcharge on the idea. In today’s constrained marketplace, it’s a win-win.”

View a recipe and expert tips for Mother's Day Cupcake Bouquet