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Picture-Perfect Holiday Dessert: Snacks and Treats

Creating snacks and desserts designed for social media sharing helps generate buzz.


Sharing the holiday spirit

Decorative holiday snacks and desserts expand the restaurant experience on social media.

Social media has created a window onto the plate of every dish served to every customer. Especially around the year-end holidays, that presents an opportunity for operators willing to go the extra mile and create colorful, visually appealing holiday snack and dessert options that can serve as an open invitation for customers seeking to share the holiday spirit.

Zombie Frappuccino
Starbucks

Received more than 1.5 million views on Instagram, and nearly 9,000 comments, many of which are asking when it will be back again or when it will be available in their country.

Source: Starbucks Instagram.

Halloween Doughnuts
Krispy Kreme

All of the major holidays are the subject of colorful confections at this doughnut chain, including Halloween. All receive significant play on Instagram and other social media.

Source: Krispy Kreme Instagram

Reindeer Hummingbird Cake
The Glass Knife, Winter Park, Fla.

The classic hummingbird cake was revamped for the Christmas season last year with edible decorations, from chocolate antlers to a fondant nose colored with red disco dust.

Source: The Glass Knife

Santa Claus Cookies
The Glass Knife, Winter Park, Fla.

These individually decorated treats were wildly popular last year and are highly Instagram-friendly, with their detailed icing decorations.

Source: The Glass Knife

Candy Cane Pie
Bakers Square

This colorful dessert darling of social media features a chocolate cookie crumb crust, a thin layer of milk chocolate, a peppermint silk filling mixed with red and green peppermint chips, then another layer of milk chocolate and finished with real whipped cream and red and green candy drops.

Source: Instagram

Bûche de Noël
The Glass Knife, Winter Park, Fla.

This yule log gets the Santa treatment, complete with a red coat, black belt and gold buckle.

Source: The Glass Knife

White Chocolate OREO Milkshake
Steak ’n Shake

Steak ’n Shake’s White Chocolate OREO Cookie Milkshake, part of a “Sweets for the Season” line featuring a variety of holiday-inspired milkshakes, was a classic hand-dipped milkshake blended with white chocolate syrup and OREO Cookie pieces, topped with whipped cream, a cherry and red and green sugar sprinkles.

Add “likes” and “shares” to the list of things consumers will be hoping to receive during the year-end holiday season.

Posting food photos on social media has become an important cultural phenomenon, and operators are riding the trend by creating Instagram-worthy snacks, desserts, and beverages designed especially for the holidays.

“Today, social media is an absolute necessity for success, it seems,” says Steve Brown, owner of The Glass Knife, a bakery and café in Winter Park, Fla.

The café, which opened about two years ago, has sought from the start to offer a highly visual experience. It has garnered more than 21,000 Instagram followers who are fans of its artistically designed confections.

“People are eating with their eyes on Instagram,” Brown says.

A 2017 study conducted by consulting firm Maru/Matchbox found that 69 percent of millennials have taken a photo or video of their food and posted it to social media before they even began to eat. And the trend only appears to be growing.

Dessert flavor and variety

Flavor remains the most important aspect of any dessert, says Brown. But he notes that his team goes the extra mile to ensure that their sweet creations offer a visual feast as well.

The Glass Knife’s year-end holiday cakes last year generated considerable buzz, and included a variety of both elegant and whimsical creations to capture the attention of a range of customers, from sophisticated foodies to fun-seeking families.

Offerings included:

  • A Santa-themed Bûche de Noël (yule log) with a red coat, black belt and gold buckle.
  • Petits Gateaux (small cakes) made from chocolate and decorated like miniature Christmas trees.

“People absolutely loved that dessert,” says Brown of the chocolate trees. “That's one that was very, very Instagram friendly.”

For operators of any size or type, the year-end holidays present a prime opportunity to leverage consumers’ obsession with photo sharing by giving their festive treats and dessert options some extra visual flair.

Go ghoulish for Halloween

Some Halloween snacks and desserts that offer Instagram appeal have performed well in Datassential’s SCORES rankings, which measure consumer perceptions of a selection’s value and uniqueness, as well as the item’s ability to attract store visits (its “draw”) and attract multiple purchases (“frequency”).

Starbucks limited-time Zombie Frappuccino, for example, scored well in uniqueness and draw, the SCORES research found, with rankings of 99 and 98, respectively, out of a possible 100. The ghoulish green and bloody red beverage was topped with a pink brain-like foam, and flavored with apple and caramel.

An image of the beverage in a zombie's hand has received more than 1.5 million views on Instagram and nearly 9,000 comments — many of which ask when it will be back again or when it will be available in their country.

Doughnut chains are also big believers in the visual power of holiday-themed dessert creations.

The seasonal Spider Web Doughnut from Krispy Kreme is a variation on the chain’s signature Chocolate Iced Kreme-filled cake doughnut, topped with a sweet candy spider and a neon-green web of icing. Datassential’s SCORES research ranked the item high in uniqueness at 98. It also scored well in branded purchase intent, value and draw.

Use familiar Christmas dessert confections

Unlike Halloween, which allows operators to push the edge with macabre snacks and desserts, Christmas is all about the cheery comforts of the season. Christmas snacks and desserts emerge as easy targets for amateur Instagram photographers when they leverage familiar ingredients, flavors and colors in interesting ways.

“Familiar Christmas treats like cookies and candy canes add both a pop of color and uniqueness to dessert formats,” says Datassential.

Steak ’n Shake’s White Chocolate OREO Cookie Milkshake, for example, part of a “Sweets for the Season” line featuring a variety of holiday-inspired milkshakes, was a classic hand-dipped milkshake blended with white chocolate syrup and OREO Cookie pieces, topped with whipped cream, a cherry and red and green sugar sprinkles. In the SCORES survey, it earned high scores for draw (99), branded purchase intent (91) and frequency (97).

Likewise, Bakers Square Candy Cane Pie offers a colorful blend of sweet holiday flavors perfect for social media sharing. The Pie features a dark chocolate cookie crumb crust with a thin layer of milk chocolate, a peppermint silk filling mixed with red and green peppermint chips, and topped with another layer of milk chocolate. It is finished with real whipped cream and red and green candy drops. It scored a 95 for its uniqueness in the Datassential SCORES survey.

Sweet treat appeal

McDonald’s Holiday Pies are another example of how a familiar treat can touch consumers emotionally and encourage social media sharing. Consumers took to Twitter last year to proclaim the arrival of the seasonal handheld Holiday Pies, which feature a buttery crust filled with vanilla custard and topped with a sugar glaze and sprinkles.

“I don't promote the eating of sweets, but every now and then, it's okay,” one Twitter user reported last year as the social media channel erupted with the news. “And when @McDonalds gets their holiday pies in … it's on! They are back and they are delicious!”

The year-end holidays are a perfect time to generate buzz with creative dessert options and treats that meld the emotional connections of comfort foods with the colors and flavors of the season. Get the party started with some spooky Halloween goodies and keep it rolling through December with family-friendly festive fare for the rest of the season.



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