As a simple comfort to most consumers, the demand for dessert categories was highest in 2020-2021 during the pandemic. Flavor innovation, on the other hand, was less expansive as companies and brands focused on the basics to keep their business afloat.
“The trust, familiarity and nostalgia that underpinned strong sales in 2020 remain key assets for dessert and confectionery manufacturers, as desserts benefit from powerful sensory and cultural associations.”said Michele Scott, associate director of food and beverage at T. Hasegawa.
However, interest in new and unexpected flavors among younger generations is boosting the dessert and candy category, Scott noted.
“Consumers, especially Gen Z and millennials, are also looking for more innovation in taste, health, functionality and, in a context of rising inflation, value in desserts and sweets. Balancing continuity and change for different consumer groups consumers and draw inspiration from various sources – all can help invigorate the category.”
Younger consumers are more likely to be convinced to try a new flavor in a dessert or confection at the mention of ‘international inspiration’, ‘limited time flavor’, or if it is recommended on social media, according to research from 1965 consumers surveyed online.
“Interest in trying more diverse and unusual flavors and ingredients, including from Latin and Asian cuisine, is strong.”T. Hasegawa said.
When it comes to specific dessert flavors, Gen Z and Millennials are much more likely to have tried flavors like red kidney bean, spirulina, gulab jamun, ube, passion fruit, dragon fruit, and marionberry than previous generations.
For example, 145 of the Gen X respondents said they had tried or were at least familiar with dragon fruit in desserts and sweets versus 39% of Gen Z and Millennials.
“When it comes to a new taste test, older consumers are more likely to seek smaller portion sizes, which can be promoted as a healthier way to try new delicacies. Conversely, younger consumers are much more likely, the Generation Z and Millennials are also driven by social media recommendations, reinforcing the value of this tool for engaging youth and parents. They are also more likely to be inspired by international flavors and functional benefits.” .noted T. Hasegawa in his report.
Flavor Exploration: At Home vs. Away
In terms of where consumers are trying new and unique candy and dessert flavors, indulgent home shopping dominated the bulk of 2020 and 2021 sales.
In 2022, consumers began to dine out again, causing a decline in at-home purchases of desserts and sweets in favor of eating out, creating challenges for retail.
Specific sectors such as baked goods and frozen/ice cream desserts are experiencing headwinds as consumers eat out more while chocolate and sugar confections are performing better at retail.
However, there are opportunities to promote sensory and taste exploration of desserts, confections, and baked goods by promoting certain functional and health attributes, according to T. Hasegawa.
“Showing protein-rich plant-based confections and others with more functional and nutritious ingredients can encourage consumers to see them as a pleasurable part of a balanced diet, not an indulgence. Consumer interest can also be supported through diversification formats, textures and tastes, especially finding ways to balance nostalgic tastes and the most inventive”,the company said.
Trendy Flavors: Latino and Asian-Inspired Cuisine
Tropical fruit flavors (papaya, lychee, dragon fruit) have become more common in candies, sherbet, and ice cream. Other flavors that are well established in Asia and Southeast Asia (taro, ube, yuzu, lotus seed, tamarind, mung bean, and red kidney bean) are less well known in the US and are still largely found in markets asians. Some flavors like Taro are better known to younger consumers through milk tea flavors served with boba.
“Asian restaurants can be leaders in introducing new flavors in desserts, either in traditional or hybrid formats, combining flavors and ingredients from Asian cuisine with more American ones,”T. Hasegawa said.
“Latin American tastes and flavors are also making their way into ice cream and yogurt flavors in foodservice.”noted T. Hasegawa.
Latino flavors found in some gourmet ice creams, sorbets, and chocolates launched in 2022. Desserts offered in Mexican restaurants integrate additional Latin American flavors and products, sometimes combining them with more traditional American ingredients, such as cheesecake, caramel , marshmallow or meringue.
A place for nostalgia
While younger consumers may be driving international flavor exploration, there is still a place for nostalgic and pleasing flavors in desserts and confections, the company noted.
Nearly half (46%) of consumers surveyed like desserts that remind them of their childhood, and 37% like desserts with a familiar touch. T. Hasegawa’s research highlighted pumpkin spice (associated with fall and winter holidays), birthday cake (a family/childhood treat), and s’mores (evoke summer adventures and campfires). as some of the highlights.
Chocolate and nut flavors have remained the top two main subcategories in launch activity during the 2019-2022 period. Fruit flavors have moved into the third flavor category by launch activity, displacing sugar and presenting more opportunities for better-for-you positioning in desserts and confectionery, the company said.