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Sales à la Mode: How Toppings Help the Bottom Line

Filling the growing gap between meals

With millennials constantly yearning for new and exciting flavor experiences, dessert can be the cherry on top of the menu mix, leading to a sweeter bottom line for restaurant operators and other foodservice establishments. As the definition of dessert continues to stretch and vary, the frequency of dessert consumption and the consumer’s appetite for menu innovation open up new possibilities for greater personalization and more customized flavor profiles.


Nearly half of consumers surveyed equate “real” or “natural” ingredients with better-for-you desserts.1

According to the foodservice market research firm Technomic, dessert consumption is reaching new heights, with 63% of consumers partaking at least once a week.1 Wellness concerns, however, can deter consumption. And though only a small segment adheres to a strict diet, the vast majority of Americans adopts some form of well-being-oriented eating.

In a survey from Datassential, another prominent research firm for the foodservice industry, 41% of participants said that while they don’t follow a specific diet, they are very careful about what they eat, while 44% said they generally try to eat healthy.2

Filling the growing gap between meals

50% of consumers surveyed in a Technomic dessert trends report like topping bars that let them personalize frozen yogurts and ice cream desserts.1

Research shows that desserts are having their day. With 63% of consumers eating it at least one day a week,1 dessert is poised to play a greater role in helping to drive restaurant visits and higher check averages. While only half of dessert purchases are made at the same restaurant where they eat their meal, there is ample opportunity for menu upgrades designed to whet the consumer’s appetite for new dessert concepts.

As the most frequent partakers of dessert and the most likely to visit a restaurant because of a particular dessert variety,1 young people are well-suited for options that reflect their personal preferences. Driven by the millennial market, the hybrid dessert trend appeals to 44% of consumers in the 18-34-year-old range and 26% of older cohorts.1 Given the popularity of hybrids like pastry-ice cream mashups and dessert pizzas and nachos, variety in the form of flavor combos and innovative toppings may be the key that unlocks an operator’s potential to satisfy a range of consumer preferences.

The self-serve frozen yogurt boom is an example of the rise of dessert-focused concepts that lend themselves to customization and the build-your-own foodservice phenomenon. Projected to rack up $2.4 billion in earnings by 2020,2 the frozen yogurt industry has seen its greatest growth in the self-serve model, which taps into the popular trend of giving customers autonomy over quantity, flavors and toppings and allowing them to customize based on their dietary needs. 68.8% of frozen yogurt shops in the U.S. are self-service, compared to 18.1% full service.2

When considering which toppings to offer customers, operators should bear in mind that brand-name ingredients, which are typically associated with quality, increasingly influence consumer dessert choices. 62% of consumers surveyed like to order dessert with brand-name ingredients, with 29% strongly agreeing.1

The preeminent brand flavor for baked goods, OREO has also proven to be the leading brand item for ice cream and one of the fastest-growing ice cream flavors.3 With 72% of consumers enjoying toppings on ice cream and sundaes and with $1 the average price consumers are willing to pay for each additional dessert topping3, operators have a lot to gain by ensuring their customers get the brand-name toppings and add-ins they trust and desire. Cookie, chocolate and graham cracker pieces can add an appealing twist to frozen and baked desserts and serve as a welcome ingredient for build-your-own options.

Given the ability of brand-name ingredients to encourage dessert orders, operators should consider applying them to concepts that leverage customizable, build-your-own dessert trends or offering co-branded items. Giving consumers what they want is a practical approach to help attract customers and to help drive repeat traffic.

1 Technomic, Dessert Consumer Trend Report, Q3 2015

2 Guidant Financial, Industry Report: Frozen Yogurt Stores (infographic), June 2, 2015,

3 Technomic, Dessert Consumer Trend Report webinar, Nov. 12, 2015

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