At Cold Spring Bakery in Cold Spring, Minnesota, two out of every three wedding couples in recent months are requesting donuts instead of cake for their special wedding day.

Dessert donuts are the new take on wedding cake in America. And further evidence of this donut explosion was on full display at the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.

Donuts for dessert may be the hottest food trend in the sweet snack category because they serve as a delicious platform for all sorts of creativity — and are perfect for any time of day.

At the restaurant show, Weston Foods set up a donut bar in which attendees chose their own toppings: mini pretzels, colored marshmallows, chocolate chips or even nacho puffs for a savory option. According to Weston Foods, donuts (up 8 percent) are one of the fastest-growing desserts on restaurant menus.

At PreGel, imaginative chefs whipped up mini donuts made from PreGel’s Five Star Chef Pannacrema Pastry Compound, now available in fruit flavors like banana, strawberry and peach. These new highly concentrated compounds boast an intense taste and color that is not altered when baked.

One of the most unique donut creations was on display at the Dawn Food Products booth. Candy bar stuffed donuts “push the boundaries of creativity with an exciting combination of bakery and candy. Made with Dawn Raised A Donut Mix, these candy bar stuffed donuts provide sweet mashup opportunities everyone can enjoy,” according to Dawn.

Recently released consumer research from Dawn Foods shows that more than 80 percent of Gen Z (ages 18-21) and millennial (22-34) consumers are interested in trying unique and adventurous donut flavors. The inaugural Donut Day survey from Dawn Foods found that 82 percent were willing to taste outside-the-box donuts.

“Today, the options to delight consumers are virtually limitless,” says Dawn Foods chief marketing officer Angie Goldberg. “Whether it’s National Donut Day or Friday at the office, we know consumers will continue to savor donuts for years to come.”

The top unique flavors that these consumers are craving include S’mores (29 percent), Mango (18 percent), Alcohol-Inspired (17 percent), Breakfast Cereal (16 percent), Bacon-Infused (16 percent), and Peanut Butter & Jelly (16 percent).

Other findings from the survey indicate that more than one-third of consumers (37 percent) eat donuts at least once a month, classic donuts like chocolate and plain remain strong (more than 50 percent), and the more adventurous palates reside out West (72 percent willing to try bold flavors).

Americans certainly love their donuts. More than 10 billion donuts are produced in the U.S. every year, a number of donuts that could stretch around the Earth 19 times. The U.S. has over 25,000 donut shops producing these treats, with Boston having the most (one for every 2,500 people).

Flavor trends and opportunities

Mintel recently announced major flavor trends that are just emerging or are already hitting the mainstream and set to shape the future of foodservice in 2018 and beyond.

Among the flavors already creating buzz in the US, Middle Eastern cuisine has become an inspiration for fusion flavors.

Less sweet desserts featuring ingredients such as olive oil and vinegar are gaining popularity, and functional ingredients are adding color and flavor to food and drinks.

Ice cream and frozen desserts are gaining widespread popularity, and Sweet Street Desserts showcased new menu ideas at the restaurant show to help operators leverage the latest trends.

Sweet Street featured “frozen bar-sicles” in a wide range of flavors from Peanut Butter Crunch to Razzle Dazzle. Chefs at the Sweet Street booth created cool treats for attendees to enjoy on the show floor.

The Eli’s Cheesecake Company showcased its award-wining Florentine Honey Almond Bar, which is handmade in small batches. Sliced almonds are drenched in housemade honey glaze and baked on Eli’s signature all-butter shortbread cookie crust. Of note, Eli’s honey is harvested by students from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.

The Florentine Honey Almond Bar received a FABI 2018 Award from the National Restaurant Association. FABI Awards recognize food and beverage products that stand out for taste, creativity and profit potential and will make a substantial impact in the restaurant industry.

Another innovative product featured at the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show was cake in a jar, known as CakeLove cake and icing. Created by Warren Brown in Alexandria, Virginia, CakeLove was developed based on consumer demand for products with cream cheese frosting.

The jars are available in three sizes (2-ounce, 4-ounce and 12-ounce) and come in a wide variety of flavors including Salty Caramel, Key Lime, Coco Piña, Red Velvet and Mocha. This product is ready to serve with a resealable lid. Brown is host of The Food Network’s “Sugar Rush” and is an accomplished entrepreneur with a spirited passion for enjoying life. Brown left his career as a lawyer to become a baker in 2000. Armed with a credit card and a sense that people wanted something better than what was currently on the market, he founded CakeLove, a bakery.