sweetGoods_bodyAhh, pastries, donuts, brownies, snack cakes, cupcakes, where do we stop? There’s nothing like having a sweet treat like these every so often. But consumers are cutting back, as sweet goods are losing market share, according to data from the Perishables GroupFreshFacts. Sales in the sweet goods category declined 0.4% for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 27, 2010. “Right now, a significant challenge [bakers face] is with the cost of commodities,” says Doon Wintz, president of Wholly Wholesome, Chester, N.J. “Retailers only accept so much of a price increase, no matter how justifiable it is. For manufacturers, this is a significant challenge. How do you wind up maintaining quality, having all the bells and whistles that consumers expect and yet provide value-driven retail products? That’s a huge challenge for everybody across all categories.”

Still, products have to taste good and bakers are combining great taste and development game plan, so that sweet goods can continue to capture consumer hearts and minds. Today, the buzzwords in sweet treats are comfort food, old-time favorites, value, cupcakes, portion control and weight management.

But the baseline is, products have to also provide real value and meet a true and enduring consumer need, says Wintz. “As far as branding characteristics, a product must stay true to its commitment to the consumer. If you change your standards, it’s not going to stand the test of time.”

Like Wintz, other marketers are also taking these factors into consideration. Even Kraft’s SnackWell’s non-fat and low-fat lines are being re-invented with new products to target weight-conscious women who want to live their lives to the fullest and enjoy portioned, indulgent snacks, according to the company. Portion-controlled packaging, which has also been revised with new, eye-catching graphics, and a new approach for the brand, with products set at 130 calories, the new SnackWell’s allow consumers to be “a little bit of bad so they can still be good,” according to the taglines. Says Steve Siegal, senior brand manager at Kraft, today’s women want “calorie control and are looking for an off-switch for their sweet tooth through portion control.”

SnackWell’s will continue to be available in two existing varieties—Devil’s Food Cookie Cakes and Crème Sandwich Cookies—in their conventional cartons. But Kraft, Northfield, Ill., is putting a new spin on premeasured portions by crossing the 100-calorie line with another popcorn snack with white chocolate, also packed in a 130-calorie portion, and two other varieties, Fudge Crème Brownie Bites and Rich Vanilla Crème Brownie Bites, in packs offering 150 calories to a portion.

Kraft finds that many women shoppers struggle with temptation and want sweet choices that allow them to really enjoy something, but with a limit that keeps them under control. It’s dealing with that by exceeding Nabisco’s own 100-calorie-per-pack format.

Weight Watchers coffee cakes are one of the latest introductions in the Weight Watchers lineup from Dawn Food Products, based in Jackson, Mich. The cakes continue the brand’s sweet baked goods tradition of offering calorie-conscious individuals a “better-for-you” baked treat with no compromise on taste. The moist cake, crumbly streusel topping and rich cinnamon filling gives each bite great flavor, but at only 120 calories per serving. Individually wrapped and portioned, the coffee cakes provide a great on-the-go bite for hectic mornings. Distribution is to grocery stores nationwide, including Walmart, Stop & Shop and Publix.

“The biggest trend in baked goods continues to be control of portion size and smaller indulgences,” adds Wintz. “This isn’t a new emerging trend; it’s a continued emerging trend in the industry and is driven by several different consumer factors, such as those driven by dietary needs and those driven by retail price points. Many [consumers] are facing high unemployment rates and therefore have to be careful with how they spend their dollars. Others are looking for individual sizes so there is less waste of money, leftover product and unnecessary consumption.”

Mini-sized desserts continue to do well in foodservice and are finding their way to the retail supermarket case, says Jeff Hankinson, of Coppenrath Europe’s Bakery Sales, Cumming, Ga. “Chocolate continues to be the leading flavor in the category, and we will continue to see more and more variations of chocolate desserts. We also see the emergence of nostalgic desserts like banana cream pie.”

Hankinson says the single biggest trend is the presence of more international desserts, such as those supplied by Coppenrath Europe’s Bakery. “We provide a truly authentic European dessert. The indulgent, lighter taste of these desserts will continue to grow in popularity.” Coppenrath Europe’s Bakery’s Mousse Cakes come in Chocolate and Coconut flavors, and are indulgent but light in texture.

The Mousse Duets capitalize on the trend of individual portion-control desserts, and come in two varieties—rich chocolate mousse and refreshing lemon chiffon. “Many in-store bakery executions have upscaled the business with signature and artisan-type offerings, continuing to seek differentiation and adding value to the selection,” says Hankinson, who notices that driving traffic to the frozen dessert section after the fall season remains a challenge, as many consumers aren’t aware of the high-quality desserts and baked goods available from some of the top brands in the section.

“The tendency by the industry to focus on the frozen dessert category as seasonal only is something we’d like to change,” he says. “Consumers enjoy desserts year-round, and the category should be relevant to them year-round.”

Chocolate lovers rejoice
Chocolate still holds a prime spot in the batter’s box for many, which is why General Mills, Minneapolis, nationally introduced Fiber One 90-calorie brownies, which are moist, chewy and topped with a dark chocolately or peanut buttery drizzle, depending on the variety.

Available in the granola bar aisle of supermarkets, the brownies also offer 5 g. of “hunger-satisfying” fiber and, at 90 calories, they’re slated by General Mills as a smart choice for those looking to manage their weight. The two varieties—Chocolate Fudge and Chocolate Peanut Butter—provide a yummy alternative for chocolate lovers who want to indulge their cravings yet strike a balance between nutrition and great taste.

Flowers Bakeries, Thomasville, Ga., also amped up the chocolate profile of some of its snacks with Blue Bird and Mrs. Freshley’s treats, incorporating Hershey’s cocoa and chocolate chips.

“In the sweet goods category, consumers seem to be opting more for indulgent snacks, perhaps as a reward for healthy eating. These exciting new products scored high during consumer testing,” says Janice Anderson, vice president of marketing at Flowers Bakeries. “Adding the great taste of Hershey’s chocolate and its strong brand recognition to these snack items brings something new and fun to our cake lineup.”

Flowers says its No. 1 brand in snack cakes is Chocolate Bells, which come in single-serve two-packs and six-count individually wrapped multipacks and are “only made better by teaming them up with the No. 1 brand in confections.” The moist, creme-filled cakes now feature Hershey’s cocoa and are covered in a rich coating. Its new chocolate chip muffins, in the same packaging configurations are studded with Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate chips and a chocolate filling between a sweet, glazed crust of its single-serve Chocolate Pie, also now made with Hershey’s cocoa. All three snacks are available in the snack cake aisle of supermarkets and other retailers under the Blue Bird and Mrs. Freshley’s.

Tired of being wired? If you eat chocolate to reduce stress, there’s a new chewy, chocolatey morsel with a rich layer of fudge in the middle, but lets consumers relax and unwind with some rather tranquilizing effects.

Baked Relaxation is how the makers of Lazy Cakes describe their rich, gooey brownies, but they don’t recommend them for children. The “evening” snack cakes are a dietary supplement, developed to aid adults who lead stressful, energy drink-fueled lifestyles who want to wind down and relax. The magic of Lazy Cake brownies is in a proprietary blend that includes herbal relaxation aids melatonin, valerian root extract, rose hips extract and passion flower.

Lazy Cakes aren’t sold in shops that require medically authorized identification to enter. But they’re made by the folks at HBB, LLC, Memphis, for distribution throughout the United States, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive, says Terry Harris, chief executive officer. “It’s 2011, and people are checking their smart phones 24/7, flying to multiple cities in a day and getting fired for reaching their breaking point. It’s time for everyone to relax with Lazy Cakes, and we’re allowing them to relax with a great-tasting evening snack.”

“Customer reaction to the efficacy and the flavor has been astounding,” he says.

[Editor’s Update: Spiked with melatonin, a hormone that our brains produce at night to help us drive off to sleep, Lazy Cakes, which have been available for six months as of presstime, may be removed from some markets by legislators who think the brownies may be harmful to children, though they are not intended for kids. Some doctors are also raising concerns because the amount of melatonin in the brownies could cause some unwanted side effects, they say.

Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, Calif., introduced the CLIF Kid Zbar Full Moon Brownie as its Halloween seasonal option this year. Full Moon Brownie tastes like a white chocolate brownie but it is an organic and healthy alternative to traditional Halloween treats, featuring 12 vitamins and minerals growing bodies need most in a fun flavor kids crave, says Michelle Ferguson, executive vice president of marketing.

The USDA-certified organic Full Moon Brownie contains no high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, trans fat, artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners or preservatives and doesn’t source ingredients from genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). It will be available for a limited time starting in August with a suggested retail price of 89 cents.

Fudgey, chocolately and gluten-free
Not to be outdone, those who follow a gluten-free way of life can have their brownies and eat them, too. These folks are growing in rapid numbers. One example, from French Meadow Bakery, Minneapolis, is a gluten-free fudge brownie.

“We know it’s difficult to live without the foods we love, and we recognize the need to provide a wide variety of great-tasting products to these consumers,” says Beth Naffziger, brand manager for French Meadow Bakery. “We are proud that our gluten-free fudge brownie offers the taste and texture of the traditional items but are made without gluten.”

The French Meadow fudge brownie can stand the taste test of the most avid chocolate fans.

French Meadow Bakery understands the concern of cross-contamination, which is why the brownies are individually wrapped and made in a dedicated gluten-free facility with no artificial ingredients, preservatives or colors. The products are sold nationwide for a suggested retail price of $6.99. They are also labeled with the seal of the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO.org).

“These products make living gluten-free easier and more delicious than ever,” Naffziger points out. “Gone are the days of flavorless gluten-free products.”

Rise and shine
To start the morning off right, Hostess SmartBakes streusel cakes from Hostess Brands, Irving, Texas, are a portable breakfast snack that’s baked with whole grains and fiber. Slated as a healthy treat that allows busy consumers to get out the door on time, the SmartBakes line extension of breakfast streusel cakes are available in Cinnamon, Raspberry and Cheese kinds and come with a decadent streusel topping. They’re also baked with 100% whole grains and have 3 g. of fiber with 150 calories per serving.

“For many consumers, breakfast is the most important meal of their day, and, although they may be in a hurry, they want a great-tasting breakfast option they can also feel good about eating,” says Mike Touhey, vice president of snack marketing at Hostess Brands.

The company introduced the line of better-for-you breakfast products last fall with the introduction of SmartBakes muffins that also contain whole grains as well as fruit, chocolate and nuts.

A ready-bake line of breakfast items that are kosher-, dairy- and trans-fat-free have been rolled out by Galaxy Desserts, Richmond, Calif. Galaxy creates French-inspired desserts that it sells through grocery stores across the country and online. Galaxy’s products have been touted by Oprah Winfrey, which helped increase its popularity nationwide. Galaxy’s Mini Morning Buns, Mini Butter Croissants and Mini Chocolate Croissants are all ready-to-bake.

Retro resurgance
The single hottest trend for 2011, according to Wholly Wholesome’s Wintz is consumers’ return to traditional food choices. “People are going back to comfort,” Wintz says.

For instance, Wholly Wholesome is finding resurgence with its Chocolate Chip cookies, although sales have always been strong, Wintz points out. “We have valued-added cookies too, which have been doing well, but we’re seeing a significant spike in the Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin varieties. Items like these are touchstones of tradition, which remind them of what their grandmothers used to make.”

Wholly Wholesome is making a frozen 6-in. pie shell for smaller families, as well as for stores, so that consumers can meet that smaller portion-control trend. It’s also launching frozen rolled pie dough, so that consumers can feel in control of actually baking at home, but still get that extra head start.

Hostess also turned back the clock with its unveiling of retro packaging for its Chocolate CupCakes, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos, and also brought back the original banana Twinkie filling recipe. “Hostess set the standard for timeless treats loved form generation to generation,” says Amy Clark, director of snack marketing for Hostess. “The ‘old-school cool’ packaging and retro recipe Twinkies celebrate the brand’s amazing history and tap into the nostalgia consumers feel with every sweet bite.”

Convenient and clean
A premiere line of fresh-frozen tarts from the Daphne Baking Co., New York City, maintain the elegance of fine pastry but go straight from the freezer to the serving platter. Each tart is made by hand with no trans-fat or “artificial anything,” says founder Bo Bartlett. All-natural ingredients include cream, butter, imported spices and artisanal New England maple syrup.

Pumpkin, Chocolate and Macadamia Nut are a few of the six varieties of the thaw-and-serve line. There is also a ready-to-fill tart shell, available at many stores in the South and Eastern portions of the United States. Sold in the freezer section at retail outlets and online, the 3-in. patisserie-quality tarts are packaged in two-packs for tidy single servings at dinner parties and impromptu gatherings. They stay fresh for three months in the freezer.

“Clean eating is extending from appetizers, main courses and beverages to the dessert category,” Bartlett says. “Consumers aren’t doing without sweets, but they are looking for options that are more natural, taste terrific and ‘worth the calories.’”

Bartlett agrees that portion control is a game changer right now. “It’s being viewed as a key to healthy eating, and small portions that offer big taste are becoming more popular. With the new nutritional guidelines for 2011 becoming widespread, consumers are also looking for more fun ways to get their servings of fruit into their diets.”

The newest addition to Love and Quiches Desserts’ Gourmet Grab & Go lineup is a New York-style cheesecake, a favorite of many, in a convenient, individual refrigerated portion.

“Love and Quiches is run by New Yorkers and we know what cheesecake is supposed to be about,” comments Susan Axelrod, founder of Love and Quiches Desserts, a Freeport, N.Y., company that has been creating quality desserts for large national and regional chain restaurant customers, foodservice operators and food retailers for years.

Available in convenience stores throughout the country, the line includes Triple Chocolate Brownie, Classic Brownie with Walnuts, Oatmeal Chewie Brownie made with Oreo, Blondie and 100 Calorie L’il Lovers.

As Bartlett says, “No matter what economic conditions are, consumers love their desserts. Convenience and great taste never go out of favor.” That’s a game-winning phrase that pays.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about these and other new products in the sweet goods category, go to www.snackandbakery.com and check out our online new products section.