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Mindful rewards on deck for 2020 snacks and dessert menu options

Full-flavored snacks and dessert options will be on the radar, along with global and regional flavors, plant-based foods and nostalgic menu items.

Will 2020 bring increased focus on healthful snacks and dessert options, or will consumers gravitate toward full-flavored rewards?

The answer appears to be, “a bit of both.”

Suzy Badaracco, president of trend forecasting firm Culinary Tides, says consumers are embracing hybrid snacks and desserts that often incorporate better-for-you ingredients such as whole grains, but retain the salts, fats and sugars that consumers enjoy.

Meanwhile, Ray Camillo, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting, says the popularity of the ketogenic diet and others — such as intermittent fasting — bodes well for full-flavored desserts. The ketogenic diet, for example, allows consumption of fats and some “cheat” days, while intermittent fasting allows for consumption of treats within certain time windows.

“I see real desserts making a comeback,” he says.

Likewise, he says consumers are not looking for miniature versions of their favorite desserts.

“There's nothing more annoying than getting a quiche or a Key lime pie in an individual portion that's four inches around with all this crust to deal with,” he says. “Nobody wants that. They're making tall Key lime pies, real Key lime pies — things that have a lot of visual appeal. And you don't feel guilty because you've already worked out all week long.”

Following are some of the trends expected to drive snack and dessert changes on restaurant menus in 2020:

Infused snacks and dessert options

Similar to the trend in sparkling waters that contain hints of fruit and other flavors, snacks and dessert options will also be infused with subtle, sometimes unexpected flavors, says Badaracco, citing thyme-infused ice cream as one example.

“The other thing that's still going to be around for sure is alcohol-infused anything,” she says. “You're seeing it in ice cream, and you're seeing it in cakes.”

She points to layer cakes made with whiskey cream or whiskey chocolate ganache as illustrations.

Plant-based foods and snacks

Plant-based and high-protein snacks such as chips and bars made with an array of vegetables and pulses will continue to gain traction in 2020, according to Badaracco.

Chips made from ingredients such as cassava, beets, taro or plantains could meet consumer demand for increased vegan options, she says, and plant-based milks will also increasingly appear in an array of desserts, including milkshakes and yogurts.

Oat milk in particular is positioned to have a strong showing in desserts in 2020, says Christine Couvelier, culinary trendologist at consulting firm Culinary Concierge.

“Oat milk will continue to soar in popularity,” she says. “This will be huge for the dessert category. This plant-based alternative will be showing up everywhere.”

Avoiding the extremes

Operators will still be able to incorporate less-familiar flavors and ingredients such as seaweed into snack foods in 2020, but these ingredients will need to be in familiar forms, says Badaracco.

“Don't put seaweed into some crazy snack form that no one’s ever heard of,” she says. “It needs to be put into a chip or maybe a bar with other elements such as soy sauce that are grounding and familiar.”

By the same token, extreme heat, such as that from exotic peppers, is also on its way out in 2020, she says.

“If you're using heat, it's flavorful heat,” says Badaracco. “It needs to be a secondary note. It’s interesting, but it can't have a shock value.”

Instead, earthier flavors in edgy combinations such as lemon-thyme ice cream or mousse will tend to prevail in the year ahead, she says.

Likewise, Couvelier says floral flavors will continue to be popular, especially lavender, which is showing up both as a seasoning and as a color or garnish.

Global and regional influences on snacks and dessert offerings

Desserts from the American South and Midwest are expected to be popular in 2020, says Badaracco. These include regional favorites such as Key lime pies, stack pies and sugar cream pies, but also some Scandinavian-influenced fare such as kringle pastry and Norwegian-style potato pancakes.

From elsewhere in the world, flavors and ingredients from the Middle East and Mediterranean, such as tahini, will also continue to grow in popularity in the year ahead, she says.

From Southeast Asia, halo-halo, a popular dessert in the Philippines, has been showing up more and more as the foods and flavors from that country gain traction in the U.S. The dessert often includes mashed ube — a bright purple yam — along with sweetened red beans and other tropical fruits atop crushed ice and evaporated milk, making it perfect for sharing on social media.

Thai rolled ice cream also remains a key trend to watch.

“Has everyone tasted Thai rolled ice cream yet?” says Couvelier. “Watch out — it will be from coast to coast.”

Nostalgia done differently

Couvelier says consumers are seeking nostalgic dessert choices, but tempered by their increased awareness of health and nutrition.

“As always, food memories will continue to play a role in our choices,” she says. “Think about the best chocolate cake you have ever had, or the best éclair, or the best strawberry shortcake. Consumers are always looking for new versions of their food memories.

“Now, match that with their new interest and awareness of healthier choices,” she says, citing some innovative packaged ice creams that deliver flavor with better-for-you attributes.

Camillo of Blue Orbit says handcrafted nostalgic desserts recalling the 1960s and 1970s are making a comeback.

“People want to see food they can’t make at home,” he says, pointing out as an example the Layered Croissanterie bakery/café in Raleigh, N.C., which he helped launch.

“It’s just croissants, but boy! Those croissants are done the right way,” he says.

Overall, the trends for 2020 will continue to loosen up around full-flavored treats when it comes to snacks and dessert options, with health, novel ingredients and experimentation all playing important but supporting roles.

“The message is,” says Camillo, “to have fun, eat quality foods … and splurge with some dessert now and again.”

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