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Going Places: Desserts Take a Star Turn to Drive Traffic

Drive Traffic

Planned dessert occasions are on the rise, transforming dessert from a post-meal impulse splurge to a destination driver.1

Long considered the cherry on top of a traditional sit-down meal, dessert has morphed into many things to many people. Consumption habits have shifted, stretching the definition of dessert and spurring menu innovation, according to the 2017 Dessert Consumer Trend Report from the foodservice market research firm Technomic.

Technomic data shows that traditional definitions of dessert are giving way to broader sweet food concepts not limited to any daypart. While 62% percent of survey participants (down from 66% in 2015) define dessert as any sweet food item consumed after lunch or dinner, 37% (up from 33% in 2015) consider dessert to be anything sweet eaten at any time, blurring the distinction between desserts and snacks.2 This shift opens up opportunities to leverage desserts as stand-alone concepts that can drive off-peak traffic.

Interest in sweet dessert beverages is rising, particularly among younger consumers,2 giving foodservice operators the opportunity to increase millennial and Gen Z traffic by leveraging branded beverage concepts as quick to-go options. Think rich, creamy shakes with CHIPS AHOY or OREO cookie pieces.

From Brand to Planned: Steering Consumers in the Right Direction

Brand-name ingredients can contribute to a successful recipe for driving traffic. Sixty-seven percent of millennials surveyed like to purchase desserts with brand-name ingredients; 90% cite brand name retail purchases as a factor that influences which desserts they buy at restaurants.4

Dessert purchasing decisions are steadily shifting from impulse to planned. Though dessert is an impulse buy for 54% of consumers surveyed, planned purchases rose from 42% of survey participants in 2015 to 46% in 2017.3

Signature offers and desserts that hit the sweet spot and satisfy a hankering for a particular flavor profile tend to excite consumers. Thirty-seven percent of consumers surveyed cite the availability of a dessert they really like as a reason to switch venues after eating their main meal, while 34% go where “they offer a dessert I am craving.”5

Shifting Gears: Better-for-You and Bold Concepts

Younger consumers are drawn to locations that offer wellness-oriented options and desserts tailored to their dietary needs, such as dairy-free or gluten-free concepts.5 Foodservice operators that modify their menus with a few items to accommodate these requirements may be more likely to attract and retain this small but growing cohort.5

"As more companies enter the healthy foods space — plant-based, gluten-free, low-calorie, etc. — the most important factor will be securing consumers' trust,” explained Mindy Armstrong, partner and growth strategist at Harvest Collaborative, a firm specializing in the customer experience and menu trends.6

Dessert formats with high levels of variety and customization are also traffic drivers, especially among millennial consumers who value experiences. Nearly half of millennials surveyed enjoy desserts with an interactive element, and 32% like visually engaging unicorn desserts.7 Keep in mind that over-the-top dessert experiences may lend themselves well to social media posts that could result in increased traffic.

Always in Favor: Flavor

When it comes to driving traffic, another critical guideline to follow is that flavor matters, as Technomic’s 2017 Flavor Consumer Trend Report shows. In particular, exciting novel flavor profiles attract customers. Thirty-seven percent of consumers surveyed strongly agree that they’re more likely to visit a restaurant that offers new flavors, and 33% are willing to spend more for meals with new flavor appeal.8

Enjoying a new item provides incentive for repeat traffic and recommendations. Sixty-seven percent of millennials surveyed would return to order the same item again, and 68% would recommend it to friends and family.9 Flavor combinations and fusions of flavors from different cuisines provide differentiation from the competition to drive traffic.

"Flavors encompassing desserts include more extreme like ginger, sumac, charred and smoke, the sweet browns — natural sugars like honey, maple, coconut, brown sugar, raw sugar," said Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, a research, analytics and forecasting firm focused on the food industry.6 Badaracco also emphasized global influences: "As in French mini fruit tarts, scandinavian kringles, babka from Israel and Middle East, and from the U.S. look to pecan pie, key lime pie."6

Turning desserts into the star of your show can help steer consumers your way. A little innovation can go a long way to help your dessert concepts drive traffic and fuel higher profit margins.

1 Technomic, Dessert Consumer Trend Report, 2017, p. 6.
2 Technomic, p. 52.
3 Technomic, p. 62.
4 Technomic, p. 82.
5 Technomic, p. 64.
6 Cansler, Cherryh, “Fast casuals innovating desserts, snacks to boost post-lunch traffic,” Fast Casual, Dec. 7, 2017.
7 Technomic, p. 79.
8 Technomic, Flavor Consumer Trend Report, 2017, p. 75.
9 Technomic, Flavor Consumer Trend Report, 2017, p. 76.

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