Consumers are still looking for indulgences, despite the fact that many products now have health halos. However, in our current era of “little treat culture,” the bakery snacks category—aka smaller servings of snack cakes and pies—continue to be popular.

Market data

Bakery snacks have overall shown modest growth, according to Circana (Chicago) data from the past 52 weeks, ending on March 24, 2024. The exception is the perimeter snack cakes subcategories, which showed growth ranging from 16.9% to 82.7%.

In the center store bar/finger snack cakes subcategory ($2.2 billion in sales, a modest 1.2% uptick), McKee Foods stole the show, with $531.6 million in sales and growth of 9.6%. The J.M. Smucker Co. followed ($322.6 million, 5.4% increase), and Grupo Bimbo took in $140.2 million, with a slight decline of 1.4%.

The center store snack cupcakes subcategory unfortunately was overall disappointing—as a whole, it was down 7.5%, and most of the companies listed were also in the red, including Smucker again ($254.3 million, down 5.2%), Flowers Foods ($79.6 million, 15.1% in the negative), and private label ($41.6% in sales, down 7.4%). 

Other brands of note: Elvan Food Ind. Co., in the center store roll snack cakes subcategory (only $5,557 in sales, but up 2,256.9%); Starbucks, in the all other center store snack cakes subcategory ($19.5 million, with a nice 69.2% increase); and a few very high growth numbers in the all other perimeter snack cakes subcategory, such as Bon Appetit Danish Inc., with $2 million in sales but an uptick of 302,014.7%.

Looking back

“Within the snack cakes and snack pies segment, we see bakers getting more creative as consumers become more comfortable trying new flavors and products,” says Raoul Dexters, country commercial manager, Vandemoortele USA. “For Vandemoortele in this category specifically, this means expanding our turnover line. While we have the classic All Butter Apple Turnover, we also have salted caramel cream-filled and raspberry-filled to offer flavor variety and, therefore, reach additional consumers.”

“Also, we’ve seen customers continuously lean toward fresh flavor. While many snack pies and snack cakes are ready-to-serve, Vandemoortele’s turnovers are designed to be baked fresh for a satisfyingly crisp texture and warm flavor. The easy-to-bake convenience also allows for the snack cakes and snack pies to be enjoyed at their optimum status throughout the day, which is another major category trend we see,” Dexters adds. “While these treats used to be seen as a morning time offering, COVID-19’s disruption caused a shift to all day snacking and on-the-go mealtimes. Since bakeries, delis, coffee shops, etc. are continuing to be an all-day food option, they need products that can be appetizing from morning breakfast to midday snack time. Our pre-proofed turnovers can be quickly and easily baked based on high-traffic times, providing warm, fresh bites throughout the day.”

Vandemoortele recently announced the acquisition of a majority share in Banneton Bakery, marking its first production facility in the U.S. “The acquisition continues to prove the company’s commitment to bringing French flavor to the U.S., and we’re excited to see the growth that’s coming,” Dexters comments. “Additionally, our foodservice business has increased. The foodservice space slowed dramatically due to the effects of COVID-19. However, now that business has picked up but labor shortages have continued, more food service outlets are looking for quality solutions. Our Bake’Up line and pre-proofed products meet foodservice operators where they are—removing the need for specific baking equipment, intense preparation, or extra training while still serving a delicious, high quality product.”

Paul Stippich, director of marketing, Otis Spunkmeyer (Aspire Bakeries), says workers are heading back to the office post-COVID, so they’re packing their own lunches more often—and looking for individually wrapped treats that can be grabbed easily, but wanting and expecting high-quality, great-tasting snack items. 

“Citrus flavors, including lemon, continue to grow in popularity, particularly as we get closer to the summer. The tart flavor contrasts and balances the sweetness of bakery snacks such as our loaf cakes,” he notes.

Hostess Meltamors
Courtesy of Hostess

Stippich advises that while chocolate’s popularity endures, the cocoa market is creating challenges. 

“We are starting to see a resurgence of non-chocolate flavors throughout the category, into which the Otis Spunkmeyer Lemon Iced and Cinnamon Crumb Loaf Cakes fit. It's no secret: consumers are embracing the nostalgia of traditional flavors, and what’s more classic than lemon and cinnamon? Data from food research company Puratos shows that interest in those classic flavors grew by 22% in 2023 compared with the year prior, and they expect to see that growth continue,” Stippich shares.

Otis Spunkmeyer recently reintroduced its individually wrapped Loaf Cakes, which come in Lemon Iced and Cinnamon Crumb flavors. They can be purchased at in-store bakeries, convenience stores, and vending.

Chris Balach, vice president, marketing, sweet baked snacks, The J.M. Smucker Co., says the brand is excited about opportunities in the sweet snacks business. 

“Snacking continues to be ubiquitous and to grow year after year—and the amount of snacking taking place throughout the day is growing, compared to traditional sit-down meals. Research tells us that 70% of consumers are eating at least two snacks per day, and 45%--nearly half!—of consumers are eating more than three. Younger consumers are snacking even more than that,” Balach shares. “That’s good news for the Hostess brand, as [our] primary growth target is Millennial parents, and we know they are always looking for new snacks. Variety is important to them, so we want to keep innovating and evolving to meet their changing needs. 82% of parents are looking for new snacking options for their family, and that’s one of the reasons why innovation is a key factor in our long-term, sustainable growth strategy.”

Hostess has introduced several offerings so far this year to meet evolving consumer demands, says Balach. “Our new Hostess Meltamors is a combination of flavors and textures inspired by warm restaurant desserts. Available in Double Chocolate and Chocolate Creamy Caramel flavors, these soft, fluffy mini-cakes with a chocolate-flavored drizzle and a chocolatey- or caramel-flavored melting center offer an indulgence for snack lovers. While Meltamors is delicious right out of the package, it’s our first snack that we developed specifically to be warmed in the microwave for a truly transformative snacking experience.”

Looking forward

Dexters says year after year, the real European butter and clean label ingredients of Vandemoortele’s Banquet d’Or All Butter Croissant shine through, landing the pastry at No. 1 in consumer testing and trending as a best seller.

“We currently offer the All Butter Croissant filled with chocolate, apricot or raspberry, but we’re expanding that line. Later this spring, we are launching some decadent flavor additions and enhancements to the line. These filled croissants can be marketed to consumers the same way a hand pie can be, providing the same satisfying flaky pastry with delicious filling,” he promises.

Balach notes in November 2023, Hostess Brands was acquired by The J.M. Smucker Company, adding Hostess and Voortman to the Smucker family of brands.

“As a result of being part of a larger organization, we have access to more resources and capabilities. Smucker plans to invest heavily in digital advertising, distribution, and new products and we’re excited about where that will take our Sweet Baked Snacks business,” he comments. “As consumer preferences evolve and economic factors influence purchasing decisions, there is a growing opportunity to innovate and introduce new products that resonate with changing tastes and preferences.”