Flavor variety, single-serving and branding are a few of the many trends enlivening the dessert cake category, which continues to thrive in instore bakeries.

Brill, a division of Sandy Springs, Georgia-based CSM Bakery Solutions Co., offers a full lineup of branded and unbranded dessert cakes for retail instore bakeries, says Mike Docherty, Brill’s vice president of marketing for North America. Dessert cakes play an integral role in Brill’s instore strategy, he says. “As the third-largest category within fresh bakery, dessert cakes continue to be one of the most important categories and are a consistent volume driver for the category.”

Brill’s dessert cakes are designed so that a message or decoration can be added to the center, Docherty says. Branded product includes cakes created through Brill’s partnerships with Hershey’s, Reese’s and Oreo. Having a strong brand helps catch consumers’ attention and draws them into the instore bakery, Docherty says.

“Adding them to a retailer’s cake offering is a great way to drive impulse purchases and incremental sales,” he says.  Brill’s Hershey and Reese’s mousse and bar cakes in particular are performing well, with mousse cakes experiencing double-digit growth.

Brill is constantly on the lookout for new and interesting dessert cake flavors, Docherty says. Chocolate Peanut Butter, Vanilla Raspberry and Brownie Batter are some of the more recent additions to the company’s product roster. “While still a small portion of the market, these flavors are seeing double- and triple-digit growth,” he says. “Our Brill flavors and fusions buttercrémes, as well as our extensive fillings line, allow retailers to create these unique profiles.”

Flavor variety is also key for Buffalo, New York-based Rich Products Corp. and its instore dessert cake program, says Krista Corigliano, the company’s marketing manager for instore bakery desserts. “Carrot, red velvet, cookies ‘n crème and traditional chocolate are always top sellers,” she says. “Size is important, too – we know consumers like to have options, so we offer everything from single-serve cake slices and mini bundt cakes to larger 8 in double layer cakes.”

Instore bakeries are definitely seeing an increase in individual dessert sales, Corigliano says. Five in. cakes and individual cake slices are two examples from the dessert cake category. 

Richmond, California-based  Galaxy Desserts, part of the France-based Brioche Pasquier family of baking companies, also has capitalized on the single-serve trend.

Master pastry chef Jean-Yves Charon, Galaxy’s co-founder, has taken several dessert classics and turned them into refrigerated single-serve items for instore bakeries. Chocolate Lava Cake, New York Cheesecake and Amaretto Cheesecake are among the company’s big instore sellers, Charon says, and demand is only headed up.

“We’re doing more and more of that every year,” he says. “That’s where the repeat business is at. What works well in instore is refrigerated grab ‘n go.”

Also on the cake side, Galaxy sells a full line of mousse cakes: Chocolate Truffle Marquise, Triple Mousse, Chocolate Grand Teton, Royale, Four Seasons, Cappuccino and Tiramisu.

When it comes to trends, expect to see more gluten-free and vegan versions of dessert cakes in instore bakeries in the near future, Charon says. On the ingredient side, matcha should continue to be a dominant force for some time, he says. And chocolate cakes, always popular, will get a twist  from exotic spices like Espelette peppers.

Despite all the doom-and-gloom about the fate of brick-and-mortar grocery, Charon is optimistic about the future of the instore bakery. And other parts of the store should show their gratitude — it’s the instore bakery, he says, that often draws people into the store in the first place.

Similarly, stores that cross-merchandise instore items with items in other parts of the grocery stand a lot to gain, Charon, and it’s a trend that’s only growing. Pairing instore dessert cakes and other sweet baked goods with Champagne and wine is one good example among many, he says.


Cheesecakes…and beyond

When “cheesecake” is one of the words in your company name, it’s pretty obvious what your specialty is. But Chicago-based Eli’s Cheesecake Co. makes a variety of other baked goods for sale in instore delis, including dessert cakes, says Debbie Littmann Marchok, the company’s vice president of marketing.

Basically, if Eli’s retailer partner wants a dessert cake or other non-cheesecake option, Eli’s will do everything it can to make it happen. “We work with the instore bakery to create a program with products that work for both their bakery team and consumers,” Marchok says.

Eli’s markets its instore cheesecakes, dessert cakes and other items in both domes and single-serve containers, Marchok says. Where product is marketed is constantly evolving, she says, but the trend toward grab ‘n go is definitely hot.

“The number of SKUs and volume move around the bakery and participate in different product categories or the same categories with different sizes,” Marchok says. “ For example, Eli’s White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake traditionally sold by the slice in the service case can be seen packaged on-premise in a clamshell and sold in the retailer’s refrigerator self-service case.  We are continually introducing new products and refreshing product selection to meet the needs of the consumers.”

Among those new products are several that cater to current consumer trends. Eli’s new single-serve Vegan Belgian Chocolate Cheesecake and gluten-free Double Marshmallow Crispy Bar meet dietary needs, and Pumpkin Tart (made with Stahlbush Island Farms pumpkin) and Florentine Honey Almond Bar (made with honey from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences) cater to those looking for local.

Also new at Eli’s: a retro Chocolate Lava Cake and a Gooey Butter Cake for those craving nostalgia and comfort foods; and a Cookie Butter Cheesecake to capitalize on the cookie butter trend.

In addition to keeping up with trends, Eli’s also stands out for its commitment to quality, Marchok says. “Eli’s offers something different than the competition: chef-created, hand-decorated desserts,” she says. “Our unique, Chicago-style cheesecakes are richer and creamier than their New York counterparts and baked on a housemade shortbread cookie crust. Each cheesecake is baked twice – once for the cookie crust and again for the cheesecake.”

Eli’s  “takes great pride and care” in selecting the highest quality ingredients, Marchok says  —cultured cream cheese and cultured sour cream made to its specifications, Madagascar bourbon vanilla from Nielsen-Massey and grade AA butter in its cheesecakes.

In addition, Eli’s custom dome and eye-appealing graphics on both the top and side panels allow for flexible merchandising instore product, she says.


Variety cakes, watercolor cakes, mashups

Consumers continue to look for ways to make entertaining easy, and they also want variety for their guests, she says, and Rich is eager to fill the need. “We recently launched a variety cake which features four flavors in one cake. It’s been a top performer, namely because it delivers what consumers are looking for – variety, taste and it’s easy to serve,” Corigliano says.

On the more traditional side, dessert cakes made with cream cheese have seen a surge in recent years, Docherty says. “It’s vanilla with an extra tang and we’re seeing more and more requests for it.”

When it comes to decorating, watercolor cakes, mashups and what Docherty refers to as “refreshed” floral designs are among the trends Brill is tracking. One example of the latter is the use of buttercreme bouquets, which Docherty says is the perfect way to update traditional rose decorations. And they don’t necessarily have to go on top of the cake, he says. Some are showing up on cake sides.

Watercolor cakes, meanwhile, are a great way to add color, are a perfect fit for buttercreme and —last but certainly not least —are  “a current Pinterest favorite,” Docherty says.  Popular mashups include donut cakes and unique flavor combinations, like a red velvet cake topped with Oreo Cookies and Cream icing.

One trend that influences all of Brill’s product lines, not just dessert cakes, is people’s increasing concern for what they put in their bodies, Docherty says. “Over three-fourths of consumers indicate that a simple ingredient statement is important, while over half of consumers choose products with fewer processed ingredients.”

To help its customers meet these needs, Brill has expanded its Simplicious line, which features products made without HFCS, artificial flavors or sweeteners or artificially derived color. Simplicious cake layers, icings and fillings are now all available, Docherty says. “Retailers now have a single supplier solution to developing clean label cake programs,” he says.

Another trend Rich is tracking closely, Corigliano says, is increased demand for new seasonal flavors —black forest and pumpkin, to name two. “We’re innovating with that in mind,” she says.

In the end, it comes down to finding the right balance of old and new and listening to your customers, Corigliano says. “It’s really a mix of continuing to provide those classic, top performing staple flavors and also delivering on new trends  — and working hard to understand what our customers are looking for,” she says. “We partner with them to develop dessert cake portfolios that are specific to their needs. Part of our job is to help our customers set themselves apart from their competition, and our product quality and deep understanding of the instore bakery industry is key.”