Even in the traditional muffin category, bakery innovation is keeping the category fresh with a focus on size, nutrition and expanded flavor profiles.

The muffin is a long-standing staple of the early daypart. While tried-and-true flavors continue to lead sales, the category is showing signs of ingenuity. New flavor profiles and healthy additions of protein, fiber and other nutritional benefits offer the potential to shine new life into the category and introduce new demographics to a traditional sweet goods staple.

The muffin is no stranger to evolution. Today, it’s finding favor in the form of nutritious reformulations, new flavors, multiple sizes and a variety of formats. Such innovation is also translating into increased sales with global category growth predicted at a CACR of 3.64 during 2017-2023, according to MarketWatch. Packaged Facts’ Breakfast Product Trends Report shows muffin category sales at 9.6% from 2016 to 2017, reaching $1.7 billion.

Corbion, Lenexa, Kansas, offers several solutions to ensure the quality, taste, texture, appearance and functionality of muffins. The company’s Ultra Fresh Sweet portfolio of enzymes solutions for sweet baked goods helps extend the freshness of instore and packaged items. Emulsifiers in Corbion’s SweetPro line offers bakeries flexibility and can keep fruit inclusions from sinking to the bottom or drying out end applications.

For a growing number of bakeries, such adaptability is making it easier to meet trends of premiumization, indulgence, convenience, nostalgia, transparency and cleaner labels. BakeMark, Pico Rivera, California, manufactures muffin mixes and bases and distributes pre-deposited and thaw-n-serve muffins across the US and Canada. BakeMark finds some of its larger ISB customers prefer to work with a mix to manage costs and product applications, according to David Lopez, director of marketing, BakeMark.

The promise of convenience and transparency is also evidenced as consumers seek out a more nutritious muffin. Wayzata, Minnesota-based Cargill is receiving requests for protein-enhanced muffins that provide sustained energy. Cargill’s efforts include boosting protein content, formulating for special diets like keto/ketogenic (low-carb, high fat), reduced sugar and formulations with added fiber. In the last 12-18 months, requests for keto friendly and protein-rich formulations at the company outpace requests for gluten-free.

One challenge in creating a more nutritious muffin profile is boosting protein without sacrificing taste and texture. Cargill’s portfolio of plant proteins such as PURIS pea protein and starches with neutral flavor produce label friendly solutions. Its almond poppyseed muffin, a variant of lemon poppyseed, is an effective flavor combination for enhanced-protein formulations, building on the presence of almonds in the existing base formulation, according to Matt Gennrich, senior food technologist, R&D bakery applications, Cargill.

“Formulating for specific nutritional attributes can be even more important to younger shoppers, especially when it comes to providing muffins with enhanced protein or suitable for a specific dietary focus,” he continues.

This includes vegan products such as Abe's Muffins, West Nyack, New York. The muffins are free from nuts, eggs, soy and cholesterol. "Many parents perceive muffins as a healthier alternative to cake, so muffins have become an everyday item in the household. And while we're proud Abe's products are made in a nut-free, sesame-free facility and do not contain any preservatives, artificial flavor enhancers, dairy, eggs, soy sesame or pea protein, they are definitely a sweet dessert treat," says Joseph Koffman, co-founder of Abe's Muffins. 

No matter the formulation, a simple ingredient panel continues to resonate with younger consumers looking for organic, gluten free, non-GMO and vegan options. Brill, a CSM Bakery Solutions company, Tucker, Georgia, offers its Simplicious line made without HFCS, artificial flavors, sweeteners and artificially derived color in pre-deposited muffin batters, Thaw & Sell and Scoop-N-Bake formats. Jackson, Michigan-based Dawn Foods’ Signature line is made with unbleached flour and without propylene glycol in addition to no PHOs, HFCS, artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners. Bakers looking for clean-label bases with no impact to taste, texture, quality or consistency can consider Corbion’s Pristine portfolio.


Varied Placement and Day Parts

Interest in savory profiles is also growing with around half of muffins consumed at dayparts other than breakfast. Technavio reports the increasing popularity of savory options. In response, Brill recently launched a savory muffin line with Jalapeno Cheddar and Sundried Tomato Basil options available in pre-deposited and thaw-and-sell mini muffin formats.

“Our new line allows retailers to spice up their muffin offering with savory varieties providing meal complement or snacking solutions,” says Val Burnett, vice president of marketing, Brill. “We understand consumers lives are getting busier, and we think these muffins are the perfect portable, indulgent solution that also delivers uniquely delicious flavors. These are a great solution to also be merchandised in other parts of the store, and they are great to add to salad and soup bars and meal deals.”

Lopez also sees new flavors and profiles attracting consumers to new selling opportunities throughout the day and a method to get consumers to share their purchase through social media. “There is definitely demand and opportunity for both traditional and innovative muffins, but with social media, consumers are driving interest for new flavors and concepts,” Lopez says.

Finding common ground with younger consumers includes profiles with cleaner labels and more sustainable ingredients. “Millennials and Gen Z want foods that are good for their fellow humans and the Earth,” says JoAnn Rupp, global insights manager, Corbion. “These factors can often pose challenges to bakers as they create muffins to meet these more label- and environmentally friendly demands without losing functionality and quality characteristics the more traditional ingredients provide.”

In a recent consumer panel study performed by Corbion, the company found that many of those surveyed stated knowing about a company’s sustainability story or a product’s compostable packaging could be an element that positively affects a purchase decision.

Those looking to satisfy cravings on the go are driving trends for mini muffins, muffin tops and frozen unbaked muffins. Purchases of 4-packs still dominate the category, but convenience reigns supreme, particularly among millennial consumers too busy for a sit-down meal and those who spend less than 30 minutes per day eating. BakeMark echoed this sentiment by saying increasing interest in muffin tops indicates a consumer group is looking for the muffin in an even more portable, convenient option.


Category Predictions

Val Burnett, Brill: I see the flavor and clean label trends continuing in smaller, bite sized or two-bite muffins. In terms of pack sizes, the four-count will remain a staple, but we will see growth at opposite ends of the pack size range, from both individual and bulk offerings. As online grocery grows in adoption, muffins are an easy solution for retailers to add to their delivery or store pickup assortment.

David Lopez, BakeMark: Because the muffin is not typically considered a bakery item that lends itself well to be decorated with flavorful icings or colorful toppings, a prediction can be made that muffins will just continue to be a traditional bakery staple. However, what can be expected is that with the rise of artisan-inspired baking, we may see muffins grab the spotlight by artisan bakers looking to create new concepts from traditional products and the muffin is definitely due.

Matt Gennrich, Cargill: Muffins are not immune to the influence of younger generations, which is why bakers must continue to provide new and unique flavors and formats to keep up with consumers’ varied and changing tastes.

JoAnn Rupp, Corbion: Moving forward, we anticipate seeing even more bold flavors and creative twists in the muffin and sweet baked goods category. There are significant opportunities for taste and flavor innovation, including unique seasonal varieties and combinations. Flavors that trigger seasonal and holiday memories, such as pumpkin spice and key lime, evoke fond emotions from childhood and are popular in limited time offers. Indulgent, sugary flavors like cereal milk, s’mores, birthday cake and cookie dough are especially popular because they are visually appealing and give consumers an enjoyable moment of reminiscence. We also expect to see additional advancements in packaging innovations that help bakers maintain taste, texture, quality, consistency and freshness while addressing sustainability and environmental issues related to waste.

Joseph Koffman, Abe’s: As reports indicate, the muffin category is projected to grow rapidly and steadily over the next few years. We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to the opportunity in the vegan muffin category. Traditionally, there’s always been the big bakery player controlling the category. However, as more consumers choose to eat muffins beyond their breakfast meal and new sub-categories and flavor profiles become available, the category will become more segmented with products at different price points and premiums. I predict and hope other bakery brands will move away from non-recyclable plastic packaging in exchange for more environmentally sustainable options. It’s an exciting time to be in the muffin business.


Abe’s Allergen-Friendly Alternative

Those who suffer from food intolerances and allergies often find themselves relegated to the eating sidelines. Such was the case for Abe, who was born lactose intolerant and anaphylactic to nuts, seeds, eggs and soy. While his friends enjoyed their favorite treats, Abe was left eating safe food choices.

Tired of seeing Abe left out of the fun, his dad, Joseph, and his Uncle Marty decided to create a vegan and allergen-friendly alternative that would be fun and delicious for everyone. Abe’s Muffins’ most popular products are its 12-pack mini muffins, which come in nine flavors. The company also makes 4-packs of slightly bigger muffins in addition to pound cakes, square cakes and new individually wrapped full-sized muffins. It’s top-selling flavors are Wild Blueberry Smash, Chocolate Chip and Lemon Poppy.

“It’s an exciting time for the category as there are several trends and innovations,” says Joseph Koffman, Abe’s dad and the company co-founder. “As reports indicate, the muffin category is projected to grow rapidly and steadily over the next few years. We've only scratched the surface when it comes to the opportunity in the vegan muffin category. As more consumers choose to eat muffins beyond their breakfast meal and new sub-categories and flavor profiles become available, the category will become more segmented with products at different price points and premiums."