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How to Optimize Desserts for Virtual Brands

Items that offer an experiential component—and travel well—are a must for delivery-centric concepts.

Dessert Inspiration: Delivery Offerings That Work

Virtual brands have deployed a range of strategies to optimize sales with extra treats.

As many operators have learned, selling desserts for delivery can present special challenges. They need to be designed and packaged to maintain their integrity during the delivery process, for one. What’s more, consumers are often more hesitant to order desserts for delivery than they are when dining in or ordering takeout.

The challenges are compounded for virtual brands, which might have little recognition outside the delivery platforms through which they’re offered.

Operators can overcome these hurdles and drive bigger ticket orders, however, by developing simple, highly craveable dessert options that provide an experience for consumers at home and incorporate well-known brands.

Pasqually’s: OREO Iced Brownie

Pasqually’s: OREO® Iced Brownie

Pizza-and-entertainment chain Chuck E. Cheese’s virtual pizza delivery offering, Pasqually’s Pizza & Wings, targets consumers of all ages, as opposed to the families with young children that have been the focus of its primary concept. The lone dessert on the menu, the OREO® Iced Brownie, incorporates some of the most important features of a dessert item on virtual menus: portability, brand recognition and favored dessert format. (Per Datassential, brownies have high delivery appeal.)

HotBox by Wiz: So Baked Hybrid Cookies

HotBox by Wiz: So Baked Hybrid Cookies

These sweet-and-salty cookies, which combine pretzels and chocolate and come with a salted caramel dipping sauce, seek to offer a highly craveable flavor combination and an at-home experience for consumers, who can dip, spread, pour or share as they choose. The visual imagery of the dessert on digital menus was key, says Liz Moskow, vice president of brand development for Nextbite, which partnered with musician Wiz Khalifa to launch the HotBox by Wiz concept.

It’s Just Wings: OREO County Fair Cookies

It’s Just Wings: OREO® County Fair Cookies

These cookies, the sole dessert item offered by Brinker International’s It’s Just Wings concept, combine the experiential elements of dipping and sharing with the brand recognition of OREO® Cookies. The cookies are battered and deep fried and come with what the company describes as a “chocolate drizzle sauce.” Fried items such as this are likely to travel well during delivery, says Datassential’s Mark Brandau.

Chicken Sammy’s: Chocolate Dipped Brownies

Chicken Sammy’s: Chocolate Dipped Brownies

Red Robin is creating efficiencies by cross-utilizing menu items from its core concept in its delivery-only brands. Chicken Sammy’s, for example, offers a few of the most transportable desserts available on Red Robin’s own menu. Chocolate Dipped Brownies feature chilled, dark-chocolate-dipped fudge brownies that are shaped like French fries, sprinkled with sea salt and sugar crystals, and served with a strawberry puree for dipping.

Ghost Kitchen Brands: OREO® Cookies & Cream Cheesecake

Ghost Kitchen Brands: OREO® Cookies & Cream Cheesecake

Ghost Kitchen Brands operates a hybrid model of delivery and takeout through multiple types of venues, including its own freestanding facilities in Canada and in Walmart stores in Canada and the United States. The company’s partnership with The Cheesecake Factory provides a limited selection of cheesecake slices and milkshakes as dessert options, including this OREO® Cookies & Cream Cheesecake.

Successful virtual restaurant brands have a tightly focused menu with craveable desserts for delivery that provide an exciting, in-home experience for consumers. Shareable items with dipping sauces work well, as do items that can maintain their integrity in transit, such as brownies or cheesecake slices. Brand names such as OREO® enhance the appeal of these items—and can significantly boost overall ticket sales.

Virtual restaurant brands offer a potentially lucrative solution for operators who wish to optimize how their kitchens are used or drive additional off-premises revenues.

These concepts, which often feature prominently in the offerings of third-party delivery apps, have no physical storefront but instead operate within the confines of other restaurants’ kitchens. Their offerings generally are available for delivery only.

Some virtual brands were created by their host restaurant: It’s Just Wings, for example, is prepared by the kitchen staff of Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants (both owned by Brinker International). Others, like Wow Bao, are licensed concepts that operators can bolt onto their existing brands.

While many operators of virtual brands have had some success, one key challenge they face as delivery-centric concepts is driving higher tickets through dessert sales. The challenge isn’t new: The delivery channel has long underperformed (compared with on-premises and drive-thru) when it comes to dessert sales.

According to Datassential’s SCORES platform, which tracks consumer ratings for thousands of limited time offers and new menu introductions at chain restaurants, fewer than one-third (28%) of consumers express interest in ordering desserts for delivery. By comparison, dessert interest stands at 47% among dine-in customers and 65% for those ordering takeout, primarily via the drive-thru.

“Dessert items have a structural disadvantage when it comes to their appeal in a delivery order,” says Mark Brandau, a content strategist for Datassential. “We as consumers are much more accustomed to getting desserts from a pickup window—and consuming them very soon after ordering—if we aren’t enjoying them while dining in.”

Create excitement and experiences

Virtual brands have taken steps to strengthen the appeal of their dessert offerings by creating excitement around them and, in many cases, leveraging branded ingredients to drive consumer interest.

Like many virtual brands, which generally have streamlined menus, It’s Just Wings offers a single dessert: OREO® County Fair Cookies, which features four battered and deep-fried OREO® Cookies served with a chocolate drizzle sauce. The indulgence factor is high, and It’s Just Wings knows it, hence the advice on its menu to “Be a savage and just dunk them in the chocolate to save time.”

It makes sense for virtual brands to menu fried desserts such as this, Brandau says.

Creating an experience around dessert is a common theme among virtual brands. HotBox by Wiz, the virtual “top-shelf munchie menu” concept created by musician Wiz Khalifa in partnership with Nextbite, recently introduced So Baked Hybrid Cookies, which pairs two salted caramel cookies with pretzel pieces and chocolate and a salted caramel dipping sauce.

According to Liz Moskow, Nextbite’s vice president of brand development, the multicomponent dessert offers not only craveable flavor but also an engaging experience that allows customers to dictate how they’ll enjoy it. “They could break it, they could dip it, they could pour it right into their mouth if they wanted to,” she says.

HotBox by Wiz originally offered a cookie and a brownie as dessert options before deciding to “add a layer of craveability,” Moskow continues. The company then tried a hybrid cookie-brownie dessert, but the price point was too high. That ultimately led to the current offering.

How you market desserts for delivery in a virtual menu is also an important consideration. “We spent a lot of time figuring out the best way to communicate that [the So Baked Hybrid Cookies offering] was an engaging dessert experience, rather than just a cookie,” she says.

The result: a photo displaying sauce on top of the cookies, with the cookies broken open so that consumers can see the pretzel inclusions, along with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Offer trending flavors

Virtual brand operators also need to keep up with trending dessert flavors and ingredients to boost the appeal of their dessert offerings. Among all the limited time offer desserts tracked by Datassential in the last 12 months, those containing fudge ranked as having the highest average purchase intent, followed by sundaes and items containing OREO® Cookies. Fudge scored in the 84th percentile among all limited time offers for all menu categories tracked by Datassential, followed by sundaes in the 81st percentile and OREO® Cookies in the 77th percentile.

SCORES also ranks items by their delivery appeal, which offers some guidance for operators developing desserts for their virtual brand menus. The top-ranked LTO item in terms of delivery appeal: Little Caesars’ Kooky Dough Brownie, which debuted last December, earned a delivery appeal rating of 49%. The data also illustrates the high bar set by drive-thru offerings, as the top item having drive-thru appeal, the CHIPS AHOY!® McFlurry from McDonald’s, achieved a 79% ranking.

Virtual brands can help operators optimize the revenue they derive from their existing assets. To boost their chances of success, operators should menu desserts for delivery that can withstand the rigors of transit while also providing craveable ingredients and a sensory experience they can’t get elsewhere.

Want more tips for optimizing your off-premises dessert menu? Download Mondelēz International Foodservice’s Say “Yes” to Delivery white paper.

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