In the end, it does matter how you slice it. That’s especially true in the frozen desserts category where products have become increasingly portable for on-the-go consumers.

By Marina Mayer


You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream.

Or so the saying goes.

There’s no use in screaming anymore because the frozen desserts category has made it easier for consumers to indulge on rich, savory treats without creating a commotion.

Today’s always-on-the-move way of life prevents consumers from spending time in the kitchen preparing frozen desserts. In response, frozen cake and pie producers have taken the process into their own hands by providing dessert lovers what they crave without all of the shrills and frills. Frozen desserts have migrated into the no-fuss zone, one that’s comprised of portable, ready-to-serve, crumb-free, even-sliced options.

Now that’s something to shout about.

For consumers wanting just a quick fix to curb that sweet tooth, single-serve slices now are available in supermarkets, vending machines and cafeterias. In June, The Eli’s Cheesecake Co. rolled out Eli’s Signature Single Serve Desserts, pre-packaged single slices offered in such flavors as Original Plain Cheesecake, Tira Mi Su, Apple Tart and Brownie Cheesecake Swirl.

“[People] want a variety of choices so they can consume or serve desserts to fit their eating occasion,” says Debbie Marchok, vice president of marketing for the Chicago-based company.

Additionally, portion control can be as simple as just trimming the fat, so to speak. Also in June, Eli’s rolled out Skinny Eli, a reduced-calorie, no-sugar-added version of Eli’s Original Favorites, made with cultured cream cheese, Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, ricotta cheese, light sour cream and Equal, baked on a thin graham crust. The Skinny Eli line is available in Original Plain, Chocolate and Key Lime.

So whether its single serve, twin packs or pre-sliced whole desserts, bakers are  making it easier for consumers to indulge in their favorite desserts without the extra “weight” on their shoulders, hips, thighs and everywhere else.

Keep It Simple

Portion control has become increasingly popular outside the retail channel. Even restaurants are offering products tailored to America’s on-the-move lifestyle.

For the last few years, the Schwan Food Co. has been on top of the easy-for-the-consumer bandwagon with its lines of pre-sliced pie wedges under the Edwards and Mrs. Smith’s brands. These products, which come two slices to a pack, enable consumers to control their portion sizes and serve pieces on-the-spot with no slicing, broken pieces, waste or hassle.

Now the Marshall, Minn.-based company has taken them into the foodservice channel where labor-challenged operators can enjoy a slice or two.

“The ever-increasing 24/7, on-the-go lifestyle creates further demand for convenience and portability,” says Kathy McGillivray, director of category marketing-dessert at Schwan’s Food Service, Inc.

“We are also seeing increased interest in our grab-and-go products as foodservice operators are searching for options to accommodate consumers that have less time for sit-down meals,” she explains.

Sara Lee Foodservice, Rolling Meadows, Ill., also has responded to these broader consumer trends with its July release of Chef Pierre Pre-Sliced Pies. Touting the phrase, “cut costs without cutting a thing,” the pre-sliced pies for the restaurant industry eliminate labor and waste, enhance plate appearance and are available in seven varieties: Pumpkin, Pecan, Sweet Potato, Nuts About Fudge, Seven Layer, Pumpkin Pecan Praline and Dutch Apple Hi Pie, says Jason Katzman, general manager of bakery for Sara Lee Foodservice.

“We developed these pre-sliced pies because 25% of the operators we surveyed believe pie is difficult to serve, and they reported complaints about uneven slices and waste of approximately one slice per pie, which can add up,” Katzman explains. “With the same Chef Pierre quality and recipe, this new pre-sliced format makes ‘easy as pie’ even easier.”

Sara Lee Foodservice sees “tremendous interest in products that offer value-added solutions for operators,” Katzman says.

“While our key criteria are taste and indulgence,” he adds, “we work with operators to help them build their business...  with great-tasting desserts that offer labor savings and cost efficiencies.”

To counter the smoldering heat of summer, Pittsburgh-based H. J. Heinz Co. launched a cluster of signature sundaes under its Weight Watchers Smart Ones line, consisting of already-sliced desserts with 200 calories or less. Consumers can sink their teeth into Mint Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Fudge Sundae and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

“[People] want the convenience of a pre-portioned dessert because it’s easy to eat and can better understand the nutritionals,” says Tracey Parsons, company spokesperson. “It gives [people] a sense of control and moderation with a food that can otherwise leave people feeling guilty.”

In the foodservice channel, serving the operator is as important as meeting consumer demands, McGillivray says. During the last six months, she notes, Schwan’s Food Service has greatly increased its menu applications, which give foodservice operators easy-to-execute ideas on creating signature desserts with our products.

 “We are also providing our customers with tools and ideas to encourage dessert-to-go programs, which allow restaurant operators to increase ticket value and quickly turn tables,” she says.

Sara Lee Foodservice, meanwhile, offers packaging for today’s diverse workplace.

“Boxes with clear visuals and instructions in English and Spanish make it easy to locate pies in the freezer and follow serving instructions,” Katzman says. “And our easy-tear, plastic wrap keeps pies fresh while eliminating the need for a knife to open packages.”

The packaging, he adds, should be as appetizing as the product inside, and that means, intense graphics, eye-catching designs and mention of flavors on the front of the box.

Divine Indulgence

In addition to portion control, consumers and restaurant operators are searching for products that make them feel like they died and went to heaven.

Some of the most novel ideas, McGillivray says, center around dark and gourmet chocolates, but they also target the comfort food trend with retro desserts.

“Consumer tastes are becoming more sophisticated with increased emphasis on quality and value,” she says. “Our sales remain strong for our highest quality products that look and taste homemade without the fuss of preparation.”

In fact, Americans still prefer good ol’ apple, blueberry, cherry and peach pies, especially after the hot summer months when they can turn the oven on again.

“On our traditional pie products, about 40% of our sales are fruit pies with the rest comprising of cream, custard, meringue and silk pies,” McGillivray says.

Mrs. Smith’s desserts boast descriptions such as rich, creamy, sweet and delicate, and mainly consist of crunchy cookies, graham cracker crusts and milk chocolate.

Sara Lee Foodservice also is targeting the movement toward comfort foods by delivering pie and cake options that resurrect childhood memories.

If consumers are feeling down and out or just plain bored, the company recommends turning to varieties such as Taffy Apple Hi Pie, Cookie Dough Cream Pie, Rocky Road Cream Pie, Seven Layer Pie and Hershey’s Chocolate Layer Cake. The products come in either 10-in. pies or 9-in. round cake sizes.

“Nostalgia is still king as consumers look for comfort foods with a twist,” Katzman notes. “Sara Lee Foodservice desserts offer consumers superior indulgences and bring added ease, efficiency and value to operators.”

For its part, Eli’s introduced “crossover” cheesecakes, which are hybrids of products that are traditionally associated with one dessert category but can now be applied to another. New items such as White Chocolate Latté, Bananas Foster and Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake provide a fusion of flavors into one.

In August, Eli’s also pioneered its Cheesecake Couture line, which comes in Blackberry Crème Fraîche, Wildflower Honey, Lime Coconut Passion and Dark Chocolate Banana varieties.

“Consumers are more willing to try non-traditional flavors of their favorite dessert types,” Marchok says. “Indulgence is what desserts are all about.”

There’s no need for consumers to scream anymore, unless they’re shouting for joy.