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Seasonal Desserts Add Festive Touch to Holidays

Off-premises options should include an assortment of on-trend selections for groups both large and small.


Holiday Desserts for the Whole Family

Consumers may seek portable treats to celebrate alone or in small groups again this year.

Restaurants reached the peak of their delivery game by the end of last year after several months of honing their off-premises skills. Many met the demand for at-home holiday celebrations with family meals that included festive shareable desserts and seasonal treats for all occasions, such as specialty milkshakes, that travel well for customers ordering in the drive-thru or takeout window.

IHOP — Holiday Family Feast

IHOP — Holiday Family Feast

Family dining chain IHOP has always featured breakfast fare that works equally well as dessert, and last year’s Holiday Family Feast was no exception. The deal included eight pancakes and four servings each of hash browns, scrambled eggs and a choice of bacon or sausage, plus Sweet Milk Mousse, OREO Cookie Pieces, glazed strawberries and festive sprinkles for decorating the pancakes. The deal reflected the trend toward small family gatherings that could be enjoyed on-site or off-premises and provided an interactive, shared experience for customers.

Chick-fil-A — Peppermint Chip Milkshake

Chick-fil-A — Peppermint Chip Milkshake

For customers on the go, seasonal beverages such as milkshakes are always popular during the winter holidays. This colorful treat from Chick-fil-A includes its own Ice cream soft serve with peppermint bark chips and topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Restaurant operators often menu limited-time drinks with traditionally seasonal ingredients such as eggnog, ginger, peppermint, pumpkin, nutmeg and others, which provide strong visual appeal.

Baskin-Robbins — Snowman Cake

Baskin-Robbins — Snowman Cake

Baskin-Robbins is known for its wide variety of unique seasonal ice cream cakes such as this one. The chain allows for customization so that any of the ice cream cakes can be made with ice cream flavors such as Baskin-Robbins’ OREO Cookies ’n Cream or OREO ’n Cold Brew ice creams. The cakes reflect consumer interest in holiday desserts that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Other popular holiday designs include Rosette Christmas Tree Cakes, Reindeer Cakes, Polar Bear Cakes, Santa Cakes, Elf Cakes, Winter Wonderland Cakes, Winter Forest Cakes and Modern Wreath Cakes. The variety, combined with the ability to customize the ingredients, makes these cakes well-suited for another season in which gatherings could be limited in some places, but more expansive in others.

Steak ’n Shake — Egg Nog Shake and Peppermint Chocolate Chip Shake

Steak ’n Shake — Egg Nog Shake and Peppermint Chocolate Chip Shake

Steak ’n Shake traditionally offers winter holiday shakes that incorporate seasonal ingredients and provides festive treats for customers dining on- or off-premises. The Egg Nog Milkshake consists of ice cream blended with eggnog syrup and topped with whipped cream, a cherry and nutmeg. The Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake includes ice cream blended with peppermint syrup and pieces of chocolate and peppermint candy topped with whipped cream, sprinkles of nutmeg and a cherry.

Voodoo Doughnut — Holiday Joy

Voodoo Doughnut — Holiday Joy

Doughnuts provide a perfect canvas for operators to express their creativity with holiday designs and colors, and most chains that specialize in these treats can be counted on to deliver some winning products suited to every major holiday and season. Last year’s assortment from Voodoo Doughnuts included the Holiday Joy yeast doughnut dipped in chocolate frosting and mint cocoa powder, with a quarter dipped in green sprinkles and crushed candy canes; the Gingerbread Doll yeast doughnut dipped in caramel ginger pumpkin spice frosting; and the Christmas Holiday Sprinkle Cake, a plain cake doughnut topped with vanilla frosting and holiday sprinkles.

Operators need to be ready for anything this holiday season, from solo customers looking for an on-the-go treat to small holiday parties for family time with immediate families, as well as larger-scale gatherings. Offering a variety of festive holiday desserts that meet a range of consumer demands will help ensure that operators can make the most of the season’s opportunities.

Restaurant operators are heading into another year-end holiday season filled with uncertainty. But one thing they can count on is that consumers will want to celebrate with feasts that include festive holiday desserts they can either share with friends and family or enjoy on their own.

Having invested in enhancing their delivery and takeout capabilities during the pandemic, many operators may be well-positioned to leverage those skills to cater holiday parties this year, in addition to offering seasonal treats and holiday desserts for family-time gatherings or any occasion.

Consumers have a strong interest in seasonal desserts, according to the recently published Desserts Keynote report from Datassential. Among the 10 megatrends featured in the report, seasonal desserts ranked the highest in consumer affinity, appealing to 55% of individuals overall—of which 65% were millennials.

Consumers’ affinity for seasonal desserts edged out mini desserts, which were of interest to 53% of those surveyed. Mini desserts also were exceptionally appealing to millennials, who registered the highest interest in all of the dessert megatrends described in the report. Operators should consider ways to incorporate these and other popular attributes into their year-end holiday dessert menus.

Other Megatrends

Following seasonal desserts and mini desserts, other megatrends in which consumers said they were interested included:

  • Inventive fritters or donuts, 44%;
  • Next-level chocolate, 43%;
  • Modern custards, 41%;
  • Frozen desserts from global cuisines, 39%;
  • Jumbo desserts, 35%;
  • Extravagant, “Instagramable” desserts, 34%;
  • Savory flavors, 31%; and
  • Diet-specific desserts, 28%.

The report also found that restaurant patrons want their desserts to look good and have great flavor. When it comes to cake or cheesecake, for example, 91% of consumers said they consider strong visual appeal to be important when they eat these desserts away from home. Meanwhile, 87% said they want cakes and cheesecakes to possess rich, decadent flavors.

This signals an opportunity for operators to craft some extravagant and indulgent desserts this holiday season. But they should consider offering other options based on their customer base.

Other top attributes considered at least somewhat important by consumers when it comes to restaurant cake and cheesecake, according to the Datassential Dessert Keynote, include:

  • The availability of unique varieties, 78%;
  • Varieties made in-house, 76%;
  • All-natural ingredients, 71%;
  • Large portions, 69%;
  • Seasonal flavors, 66%;
  • Small portion size, 65%; and
  • Name-brand cake or cheesecake, 62%.

Small and Large Parties

It is also important to consider that while many consumers will be eager to celebrate with extended gatherings, others may be more comfortable in smaller groups, whether at small family-time gatherings at home or at their favorite restaurants. Operators should be ready to meet these varied demands with a range of dessert options that can work for large groups as well as smaller households.

For example, last year Cracker Barrel Old Country Store offered two sizes of Holiday Heat n’ Serve meals—a Heat n’ Serve Feast to feed eight to 10 people and a newly introduced Holiday Heat n’ Serve Family Dinner for smaller celebrations of four to six. The meals were chilled for customers to reheat at home.

For the Christmas version, Cracker Barrel desserts included three varieties of pecan pies—apple streusel pecan pie, chocolate pecan pie and a traditional pecan pie. The Thanksgiving version featured the traditional pecan pie and a pumpkin pie.

Clearly, these pies fit within the chain’s “comfort food of the American South” theme, but operators should also consider options that can suit a range of tastes and preferences.

Mondelēz International Foodservice offers a wide variety of dessert ideas that restaurant operators can easily incorporate into their menus this holiday season.

The French-influenced Cheesecake with Eggnog Sabayon, for example, includes seasonal ingredients such as eggnog, nutmeg and ginger. It features a classic cheesecake crust made with Nabisco Graham Cracker Crumbs, topped with eggnog sabayon—a sweet, creamy sauce made with egg yolks, sugar, dry white wine, dark rum and nutmeg. It can be served with a decorative ginger tuile (a thin wafer), which can be shaped to reflect the season (an autumn leaf, for example) or specific holiday.

Operators can give the classic seasonal pecan pie a twist by incorporating OREO Cookie Pieces. This Pecan Pie with OREO Cookie Pieces recipe from Mondelez combines whole pecans and OREO Medium Cookie Pieces in a par-baked pie crust together with a mixture of eggs, butter, corn syrup, granulated and brown sugar, vanilla extract and salt.

Seasonal milkshakes are always popular around holidays. For another great recipe that incorporates the popular OREO brand, consider the Winter-Mint Holiday Milkshake made with OREO Cookies. This colorful creation contains milk, peppermint syrup, vanilla ice cream and OREO Medium Cookie Pieces. It is topped with whipped cream, peppermint candy pieces and a sprinkling of OREO Medium Cookie Pieces and garnished with a whole OREO Cookie. The treat can also be presented in a deeper pink hue by adding a few drops of red food coloring.

For a globally inspired seasonal beverage that leverages the strong appeal of the OREO brand, try the Drinking Chocolate with Biscotti made with OREO Cookies. This thick and creamy drinking chocolate contains whole milk, heavy cream, OREO Small Cookie Pieces, cacao chocolate, vanilla extract and whipped cream. The chocolate biscotti also includes both OREO Base Cake and OREO Medium Cookie Pieces, creating a seasonal beverage with a crunchy side treat that together form a tasty twist on a European classic.

The year-end holidays present a tremendous opportunity for operators to offer fun and festive seasonal desserts, both on-premises and at off-site gatherings—for events both large and small. Visit Mondelēz International Foodservice for more insights and innovative solutions for the holidays and throughout the year.



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