As the pandemic wanes, shoppers are returning to instore bakeries, and sweet baked goods are among the products they’re choosing with increasing frequency.

Sweet baked goods sales are up 12.7% compared to a year ago, and that gain is even higher for instore bakeries — 15% — said Jennifer Halliburton, senior manager of global insights for Lenexa, Kan.-based Corbion. Volumes are also up. 

“Volume gains are coming from perimeter bakery, as consumers are returning to in-store bakeries for fresh baked goods,” Halliburton said. “Perimeter segments posting the strongest volume growth are donuts, muffins, cakes and cookies.”

The segment posting the strongest percentage gains year over year is specialty desserts — a category that includes individually-crafted, premium indulgent dessert items — with 26.6% growth.

A key shift in the sweet baked goods category within instore that Corbion has tracked in recent years has been the surge in demand for individually crafted desserts, which have grown 26% in dollar sales and 23% in units moved.

“These items continue to do well as more consumers seek premium indulgences in a unique custom-crafted dessert,” Halliburton said. “Individually crafted desserts are an opportunity for retailers to showcase their instore bakery presence and to create a destination with younger consumers who are seeking premium experiences that they can share with friends in unique, fun ways.”


Renewed focus

Over the past two years, Los Angeles-based Aspire Bakeries, like many other companies, has taken a hard look at its product portfolio, said Christine Prociv, the company’s senior vice president of marketing, innovation and R&D.

Aspire Bakeries culled its product roster down to its core baked goods, plus a few additional offerings for innovation and of interest to its customers and consumers.

Otis Spunkmeyer is Aspire Bakeries’ designated Sweet Baked Goods brand. In addition to cookies, Aspire Bakeries sells muffins, bars, and squares under the Spunkmeyer brand.

In the cookie category, Aspire Bakeries sells frozen cookie dough (FCD) and baked cookies, while its muffins are fully baked for convenient thaw and sell (T&S) opportunities, Prociv said.

Labor savings, convenience and smaller serving sizes are among the industry trends Aspire is keeping a close eye on and developing new sweet goods products to stay on top of.

“In today’s constrained labor market, our customers continue to look for more convenient labor-saving options,” Prociv said. “Specifically, our individually wrapped (IW) muffins and cookies have grown significantly over the last two years, which is a testament to the strength of our brand, product quality, and agility to meet consumer needs.”

When it comes to flavors, chocolate chip and chocolate chunk continue to be the company’s most popular varieties, Prociv said.

Consolidation of demand at the top continues to strong: Aspire Bakeries’ top six flavors make up 80% of category sales.

“While the Otis team develops new flavors and seasonal varieties to meet consumer needs and drive excitement in the baked goods category, the mainstays continue to thrive,” Prociv said.

In muffins, Otis blueberry, chocolate chip, and banana nut round out the top varieties, given that muffins tend to skew toward morning and daytime snacks, she said. Bars and squares —which provide consumers with a sweet treat for dessert or any time of day — tend to follow cookies’ lead: “anything chocolate,” she said, reigns supreme.

Aspire Bakeries has expanded its individually wrapped offerings in all categories, including its baked bars. The company’s customers and consumers are seeking grab-and-go options that are sealed, portable, and fresh, Prociv said.

“We deliver on all those benefits, and sales are strong. For example, during the pandemic many hotels switched from a full breakfast buffet to more grab-and-go options that included Otis Spunkmeyer muffins.”

Now, they’re here to stay, she added, since they deliver the customer experience with no labor required.

“Overall, our IW portfolio — core plus new flavors — is being well-received in the marketplace.”

Another recent Otis innovation is the “pizza cookie,” an extra-large cookie to share among family and friends, Prociv said. Aspire introduced it at the Las Vegas International Pizza Expo in March, which generated “a terrific response” from conference attendees, she said.

Demand for Otis Spunkmeyer products continues to be strong, Prociv said. The pandemic led to a return to comfort foods as consumers were seeking a bit of indulgence or a touch of sweet, and Aspire Bakeries' sweet baked goods have clean ingredient lines that allow consumers to enjoy baked goods and feel good about what they’re eating at the same time.

Aspire Bakeries has trademarked the tagline “No Funky Stuff” for the Otis Spunkmeyer brand. What that means to the company’s consumers, Prociv said, is that while maintaining the indulgent and enjoyable experience of an Otis cookie or muffin, they have a guarantee that there will never be artificial flavors or colors, partially hydrogenated oils, or high-fructose corn syrup in any Otis item.


Balancing indulgence and claims

Depending on the sweet goods segment, consumers may have different levels of concern for ingredient labels, Halliburton said.

In the morning goods category, for instance, consumers may be looking for a cleaner label on items like muffins or sliced breakfast cakes but will have less concern about indulgences like donuts and sweet pastries.

“For these indulgent items, there’s a higher demand for quality and freshness, and premium taste,” Halliburton said.   

To achieve great taste and quality in indulgent products like instore sweet baked goods while also meeting clean label standards, bakers can replace chemicals with enzyme-based natural solutions, said Yanling Yin, R&D director for Corbion. 

Corbion’s Pristine portfolio, which includes clean-label bases, mixes, dough conditioners and icing stabilizers, gives bakers the flexibility to deliver greater transparency and simpler ingredient labels without sacrificing quality or consistency, she said.

Corbion has other solutions to help instore bakers ensure the quality, taste, texture, appearance and functionality of their products, while meeting the latest consumer demands and trends, Yin added. And the company’s on-site tech service support team works directly customers to optimize their applications and ensure they achieve the right eating qualities and processing feasibility.