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Sweet Reminiscences: Desserts that Go Down Memory Lane Help Drive Sales

2018 Nostalgia Dessert Trends

46% of survey participants favor desserts they enjoyed as children.1

Today’s consumers long for a taste of yesteryear, as shown by survey results served up in the Dessert Consumer Trend Report: Custom Webinar by the foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic.

Nostalgia is the special ingredient that can help some desserts stir up sweet memories of special times with family and friends. A classic flavor or time-honored brand like OREO or CHIPS AHOY! can take consumers back to simpler days, tantalizing their taste buds while touching their hearts with reminiscences of birthdays, holidays and treats from loved ones. Nostalgic desserts may be the ultimate comfort food: deliciously satisfying, with a dollop of emotional fulfillment.

Technomic survey data shows that consumers make an emotional connection between comfort food and nostalgia and cite foods that give them the “feeling of warmth and relaxation,” and “take me back to my childhood.”2 Recipes that “have been around for a long time” also resonate as comfortingly nostalgic. Nostalgia-invoking descriptors such as “classic,” “homemade” and “scratch-made” may help foodservice operators appeal to consumers’ taste for yesteryear when it comes to developing dessert menus.

Nostalgia-Driven Sales Never Get Old

While it may seem that older consumers are especially prone to nostalgia, a larger percentage of younger survey participants (54%) than older respondents (43%) said they prefer the same desserts they ate as children.1 Because they’re more diverse and may have had greater exposure to dessert varieties than older generations, younger market segments may also have a greater receptivity to mashups that combine sweet nostalgia with rich gratification.

Tom’s Urban at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas has introduced a warm pineapple upside-down cake that exemplifies a bold retro approach to satisfying the millennial appetite for intriguing twists on nostalgic favorites. As founder Tom Ryan described the dessert, “Warm butter cake, caramelized brown sugar and pineapple are topped with a mango drizzle and salted caramel sauce. A melt-in-your-mouth take on the classic American dessert is simple and sassy.”3

Chef Kirstyn Brewer of Victor Tangos in Dallas has also merged nostalgic longing with luscious flavor. A mélange of toasted sweet Hawaiian bread rolls baked in a custard base, a strawberry sauce, and a sauce made of peanut butter, cream and caramel, her PB&J Bread Pudding is served with peanut butter ice cream and chopped peanuts.

As Chef Brewer explained, “When a dish hits a familiarity note for guests and strikes a chord with something from their past, I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. That was my goal with the PB&J Bread Pudding—to create a unique and playful adult version of something that takes all of us back to a simpler time.”3

‘Tis the Season for Flavor, Always

With 39% of consumers surveyed associating seasonal flavors with the word “comforting” and 27% considering seasonal flavors nostalgic,4 expect to see seasonally-inspired desserts offered at unconventional times throughout 2018. According to Mintel, the global market research firm that conducted the survey, “Seasonal food and drink ingredients present a welcome opportunity for consumers to extend that special holiday feeling or escape the dreary winter days for sunny summer flavors.”4

As a result, offering innovative dessert concepts that feature seasonal flavors during the off season could be a twist that helps drive sales. During warm months, consider introducing mashups with pumpkin spice, maple, peppermint and other flavors normally associated with cold weather holidays, while watermelon, lemonade and iced tea flavor profiles may spark interest during the winter season.

Cereal is another powerful engine of nostalgia that could be a sales generator in 2018, especially among baby boomers. Satisfying boomer yearnings for nostalgic noshes would be the cherry on top of any millennial-oriented dessert menu. Nearly half of boomers in a Mintel survey say cereals from their childhood remain their favorites.5 As a mix-in or topping, OREO O’s cereal offers the comfort and taste of a beloved brand in a cereal format that also harkens back to childhood. Launched in 1997, OREO O’s may also inspire fond memories in millennials who enjoyed them as children.

Nostalgia is nice, but keep in mind that menu innovation is likely to remain key in 2018. When developing dessert concepts designed to bring back fond memories (and keep customers coming back too), remember to balance old and new to make your offerings unforgettable.

1 Mills, Anne and Yonke, Brett, Dessert Consumer Trend Report: Custom Webinar, Technomic, at p. 25 (2017)
2 AdvancePierre® Foods, “Consumers’ Comfort Food Preferences, By Region,” Restaurant Business (2017, Sept. 29).
3 Thorn, Bret, “Chefs combine nostalgia and seasonality in warm desserts,” Nation’s Restaurant News (2016, Jan. 7).
4 Schouten, Rebekah, “Consumers seeking seasonal flavors year-round,” Food Business News, (2017, March 15).
5 Severson, Kim, “Cereal, a Taste of Nostalgia, Looks for Its Next Chapter,” New York Times, (2106, Feb. 22).

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