Most U.S. consumers don’t start thinking about pies until the winter holidays approach, but now is the time when the retail food industry strategizes about which pies and promotions will serve up the most valuable pie sales in November and December. Seasonal trends aside, pies from the fresh in-store bakery have significant year-round sales potential, as sales approached $600 million in 2012. In fact, retailers that think about pushing pies solely around the holidays are leaving more than a few slices of opportunity on the table.

Pies were predicted by food media and industry experts to be the “it” dessert of 2010, but it often takes time for pop culture food trends to develop and flourish in grocery stores. And true to the foreshadowing, pies have been gaining ground in the in-store bakery department. 2012 was a strong year for pies, fueled by an insurgence of mini pies and indulgent flavor innovations. That said, however, the majority of pie sales occurred during the last two months of the year. That leaves another 10 months of opportunity for retailers to work with. In fact, a $234 million opportunity is on the table if retailers can entice existing pie buyers to purchase pie just one more time per year.

Pie Innovation Engages Consumer Interest in a Nostalgic Category

Pies have a strong nostalgic essence about them, and consumers are responding with a resurging interest. In 2012, pie sales growth outpaced most other in-store dessert categories, including cookies, cakes and specialty desserts. The products behind this growth are not your traditional eight-slice apple and pumpkin pies. Rather, retailers are cashing in on innovations involving smaller portion sizes and unique flavors.

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

Mini pies are the fastest growing pie on retail shelves. Though they make up less than 10 percent of the category, they racked up sales growth of 22 percent last year, outpacing the nearest sub-category by 12 percentage points.

The mini pie sub-category grew sales by 22 percent last year as more stores brought them into their assortment in an effort to appeal to smaller households. Individually sold pie slices are following the same upward trend as minis, as sales grew 18 percent last year, proving consumers are looking for a personal-sized pie experience. Consumer preference for mini pies and smaller pie slices opens the door to a key opportunity to make pies an everyday dessert for any household rather than just a holiday dessert for large gatherings.

Leverage Non-Winter Holidays

Pies will always have a place at holiday celebrations, but not just those occurring during the fourth quarter. Last year pie sales increased on each of the major spring and summer holidays compared with the prior year. Tying pie purchases with other commonly purchased categories for Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day celebrations provides another leverage point to gain that one additional pie purchase and close the opportunity gap for the category.

While no one can deny consumers’ love for traditional pie flavors like apple and cherry, a good portion of recent growth has come from new flavors. Notably, Key lime, peanut butter and banana cream saw double-digit growth last year, highlighting consumers’ desire for alternatives to the traditional favorites. But it’s important for retailers to not abandon those long-standing iconic flavors though, as apple, pumpkin and cherry still account for 47 percent of all pie sales.