Kids, almost universally, like a few things. Consistency. Familiarity. Ice cream.
So too, it seems, do adults, at least when it comes to restaurant desserts. Since the second quarter of 2012, the desserts that have gained ground on menus at the top 500 chain restaurants across the country aren’t things like crème brulée or cheesecake flavored with exotic fruits.
What’s trending? Soda floats and oatmeal cookies are, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor database. Grown-up flavors, such as coffee and almond, have ceded a bit of flavor share to vanilla and chocolate.
The trend toward familiar favorites on both full- and limited-service dessert menus is evident at chains such as The Greene Turtle, which offers a housemade root beer float, and Smashburger, which menus a Nutter Butter milkshake.
In addition, nostalgia-tinged menu items introduced just in the second quarter of this year include s’mores brownies (with a graham-cracker crust and toasted-marshmallow topping) at LongHorn Steakhouse, Yard House and Taco Mac Sports Grill; and a Monster Cookie Sandwich (vanilla ice cream layered between two oversized chocolate-chip cookies, with whipped cream and chocolate sauce on the side) at Carolina Ale House.
Why the new emphasis on old-fashioned treats? It could be that consumers crave tastes of home and childhood during times of perceived instability, and anxieties linger from the slow economic recovery. But, perhaps even more so, consumers are increasingly attuned to the concept of authenticity—of back-to-the-basics ingredients, recipes and preparations. And, on the desserts front, few things register as more “real” than a fresh, warm, chunky cookie like Grandma might have made.
Along a similar line, nearly half of consumers (48%) polled for Technomic’s recently released “Dessert Consumer Trend Report” indicated that they would be more likely to order—and would be willing to pay at least slightly more for—desserts described as featuring “real” ingredients. That’s higher than the share who said the same for “premium” (39%) or “natural” (35%).
Worth noting, too, is that just because consumers want nostalgic tastes doesn’t mean they always want them in hearty, home-style portions. Consumers indicated that they share 44% of the desserts they order at full-service restaurants and 29% of those ordered at limited-service restaurants. Offering easily shareable options and a range of portion sizes can serve to satisfy all appetites (and budgets).
One can see this idea at work in menu items, such as the new Bombolini at Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano. The shareable dessert, capitalizing on the still-growing doughnut craze, features Italian-style doughnuts tossed in a cinnamon-sugar blend, drizzled with a caramel rum sauce and served warm with vanilla ice cream. And, chains such as Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, Famous Dave’s and Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (on the full-service side); and Baskin-Robbins, Dairy Queen and SONIC Drive-In (on the limited-service side) offer mini versions of their signature desserts.
The mini/shareable portions trend is poised for further growth, as consumers continue to demonstrate interest in portion and price control, even when it comes to their most comforting desserts.