Consumers are slowly shifting away from the traditional view of dessert as a post-meal occasion and are increasingly defining dessert as an anytime occasion, according to Technomic’s 2017 Dessert Consumer Trend Report.

“Portable desserts like milkshakes, smoothies and fruit are increasingly popular for anytime occasions like snacking and replacing meals,” explains Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic. “Greater opportunity exists to drive off-peak traffic by positioning desserts as craveable, stand-alone occasions throughout the day or by emphasizing the snackable nature of top desserts like fruit, cookies, brownies and ice cream.”

What this trend means to bakeries and bakery cafes is evident. A huge opportunity exists today to leverage signature desserts as a “carrot” to entice shoppers to order dessert ahead of time for in-store pickup or even home delivery, if your operation offers delivery or is connected to a delivery service.

More bakeries are doing exactly that. Springfield, Missouri-based Hurts Donut stores hired “Cupid” to bring its signature donuts to recipients this past Valentine’s Day. There were only a select number of spots available, so the winged, diaper-wearing individuals were in high demand in several cities. The deliveries came with a special pink Valentine’s Day box of donuts featuring such flavors as a chocolate-covered strawberry donut.

Prices for the donut deliveries ranged from $20 to $25 depending on the city. Last Halloween, Hurts Donut made headlines when it used costumed evil clowns to deliver donuts to customers, inspired by last year’s release of the horror movie “It.”

Demand is soaring for delivery

Remember that takeout service and delivery are increasingly popular, especially for younger consumers who are accustomed to ordering everything on their phones.

New convenience-enabling technologies, like mobile ordering and delivery apps, are a bright spot in an otherwise slow period for the restaurant industry, according to a report by The NPD Group. Foodservice traffic has been stuck between a 1 percent gain and flat for several years now, but restaurant visits paid by mobile app increased by 50 percent over the past year, the report noted.

 Among the top reasons consumers are using mobile apps and other technologies are so they can order, pay, and have their food ready when they arrive. Other reasons include the ability to earn rewards and loyalty points, receive specials and coupons, and look up menu items, according to the report, which explores awareness and use of digital services including barriers, most- and least-liked features, and demographic and geographic differences. 

“Providing the ability to easily order food from a restaurant is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a need-to-have,” says Warren Solochek, NPD’s senior vice president, industry relations. “Restaurant operators seeking to gain more visits and grow the bottom line must decide which convenience enablers, digital or non-digital, are worth their investment.”

Safe packaging options

The surge in demand for bakery and food delivery is resulting in a new wave of packaging options tailored for delivery service.

CakeSafe, developer of the patented CakeSafe transportation box built to keep fully assembled tiered cakes cool while safely moving them through hazardous conditions, has introduced a new version built for cupcakes. The CupCakeSafe features shelves with pins to keep cupcakes secure and tip-proof, as well as individual cups to add stability. It provides the same insulation and UV ray protection as CakeSafe.

Juli Chapin, a professional baker, and her husband Scott, an engineer, first opened the company in 2009. According to the company, it has grown an average of 40 percent per year as more baking businesses have needed stability in their cake deliveries.

In other recent developments, Polar Thermal Technologies reports that its Dot.Box crate liners complete the cold chain for fresh food and produce home deliveries. Dot.Box can eliminate the need for expensive, refrigerated delivery vans for long to medium stop/start trips in town and country.

Delivery drivers can leave the crates for up to five hours without breaking the 8?C barrier, according to tests with a national farm delivery service that show a large margin of safety.

Dot.Box inserts fit neatly into existing food totes. Made from lightweight, washable and recyclable PP foam, the insert and lid which holds two (optional) cool blocks, is locked into place with the crate handles. Internal dividers can segregate frozen from chilled if required.

The arrival of Dot.Box reflects the growing movement from diesel to non-polluting electric vehicles for city delivery work, according to the company, with its requirement for multiple stop and starts. For organic producers Dot.Box reports that it will firmly establish environmental credentials.

Ethical foods to go

In this study, 1,500 US consumers were surveyed about their attitudes towards ethically-sourced foods and how they impact their dining choices of portable and grab-and-go foods outside the home.

The study finds that while all consumers care about ethical eating, consumers under 35 years pay the closest attention to responsible practices behind menus.

Consumers under 35 are willing to pay extra to eat more ethically while on-the-go. Roughly two-thirds of consumers under 35 said they’d be willing to pay more for ethically produced food that they can grab on-the-go, compared to 55 percent of overall consumers.

This fact creates an exciting opportunity for foodservice operators to expand their menu offerings and tap into young consumers’ desire for ethical snacks and grab-and-go foods.

While ethical grab-and-go foods may seem a niche concept for foodservice operators, it highlights the high expectations consumers under 35 have for dining outside the home. Offering products and services tailored to their needs is vital to success and to meet the needs of this growth in demand.