Across the cakes and cheesecakes categories, multiple trends continue to factor into formulation tactics and product positioning, including a balance between better-for-you and indulgence. In order to gain some insight into the desserts segment today, in both retail and foodservice, we reached out to Joan Axelrod Siegelwax, executive vice president, Love and Quiches Gourmet, Freeport, NY.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: How have you seen the desserts segment change in recent years?
Joan Axelrod Siegelwax: Today’s average dessert consumer has become more knowledgeable due to many factors. For one, technology exposes everyone to a myriad of trend information and a bombardment of daily newsletters and articles. We can all become foodies by proxy merely by sitting on the couch and watching The Food Channel! Nevertheless, some fundamental truths will remain constant when it comes to desserts. People eat dessert because of the way it tastes. Even though food trends and consumer inclinations lean toward one of health consciousness, people will still indulge! They will, however, do so more discriminately, viewing their treats as a “permissible vice.” The “better-for-you” revolution follows the same vein. This can take the form of sourcing only the best ingredients, utilizing local flavors and sources, and viewing ingredients as fuel for the body and soul. Smaller portions, sampling and sharing plates continue to make the scene. They allow consumers to socialize a little longer, experiment with new flavors and concepts, indulge a little or a lot. Comfort foods elicit feelings of nostalgia. Let’s face it: We eat dessert because it feels good. Dessert classics like warm chocolate chip cookies, big hunks of chocolate cake and creamy cheesecake will always remain in fashion and menu staples. Twists on the ordinary give restaurant-goers an opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and be adventurous (not always easy to do in life, but trying a new dessert is a safe way to walk on the wild side). Lastly, as the world becomes more of a melting pot, so does the onset of adding exotic seasoning and desserts with ethnic flair as menu selections.
DJP: What product characteristics drive consumer interest in desserts today?
JAS: Better for you, small plates, local sourcing, sharing, comfort foods, twists from the ordinary, adventurous, exotic seasoning, ethnic flair and nostalgia.
DJP: How do “better-for-you” characteristics factor into your dessert products?
JAS: Love and Quiches has always been a scratch bakery. Therefore, no significant change needed to be made at the onset of the “better-for-you” dessert revolution. We have always sought out only the finest ingredients from local sources when possible. Freezing has always been our main preservative. I remember as far back as grade school stopping by the factory. Wide-eyed, I watched as they mixed up batches of fresh eggs, milk, cocoa and wheat flour for our world-famous brownies. Nothing has really changed. Consequently, it still has not lost its ability to thrill me to observe production.
DJP: How important is a “clean” label in the desserts segment?
JAS: Consumers are smart and savvy. They will invest in the calories, but will not compromise on the quality. They think of food as fuel, and dessert as a permissible vice. They live full and active lives, so each calorie counts. They choose their food wisely, and they doread labels! If they allow themselves to indulge in dessert, it better not only be good, but it better be good for you too! With the onset of stricter state laws regarding menu disclosure of calories, fat and now sodium, full disclosure is not going away. Social responsibility also comes into play here. People want clean labels from companies that are socially responsible, choosing not only clean ingredients, but materials from suppliers that care about the environment.
DJP: What are some of your best-selling products?
JAS: Trends will come in and out of fashion. Portion sizes will shrink and grow. And discriminating consumers will always look for a twist from the ordinary. Nevertheless, at Love and Quiches Gourmet, regardless of the latest consumer inclinations, our best sellers and customer favorites remain brownies, cheesecake and a good, old-fashioned slice of layer cake!