Although 46% of consumers still crave the old-fashioned sweets they enjoyed as children—per Technomic’s new “2017 Dessert Consumer Trend Report”—one-of-a-kind, “wow-factor” treats now are trending on today’s menus. These items have novel presentations compared to traditional options and are innovating the dessert landscape, one scoop or bake at a time.

This movement of eye-catching sweets is partly due to social media’s influence on Millennials and Gen Z-ers. These striking desserts often encourage younger diners to share their bodacious treats via online forums like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

Technomic’s report illustrates that younger consumers are naturally driven to share cool and unique experiences with their social circles, as they are eager to generate “likes” and display how much fun they are having. Showstopper sweets not only help differentiate products from competitors’ menus, but also stir up beneficial online buzz and excitement that helps drive traffic into stores.

Additionally, imaginative desserts stem from consumers’ placing more importance on new experiences at restaurants. Approximately four in 10 consumers want restaurant desserts that cannot easily be duplicated at home, and approximately the same proportion say they want desserts to be a signature item that they can’t get anywhere else. Further, roughly a third of consumers believe limited- and full-service operators should offer desserts that are new and unique.

So how are operators creating surprising treats? Many are launching extreme portion sizes, as Technomic’s report notes that large dessert servings are likely to satisfy the greatest number of consumers. Additionally, more than one-third of Millennials (34%) say that brightly colored desserts are appealing, which is leading to more rainbow and unicorn inspirations. 

Take Twisted Root Burger Co.’s Unicorn Shake, for instance. The milky beverage features strawberry custard and edible “fairy dust,” topped with “unicorn poop” (whipped cream) and garnished with a waffle cone and a rainbow sprinkles-lined rim. This creative set of toppings meets younger consumers’ expectations for new and exciting dining experiences.

Besides gargantuan portions and rainbow coloring, operators also are rolling out dessert mashups—two or more popular desserts combined into one. L.A.-based Mr. Holmes Bakehouse specializes in hybrids, such as Apple Pie Pull-Apart and Churro Croissant. Future dessert innovations could take the form of edible cookie and brownie bowls, rainbow-colored ice cream cones, or cookies and pies served on a stick.

The craveability factor of intriguing signature desserts makes these items a must-add menu feature for operators. Expect more Instagram-worthy desserts to inspire culinary development at both chains and independents, as social media continues to influence guests’ foodservice decisions.

Originally appeared in the November, 2017 issue of Prepared Foods as Wow-Factor Desserts Excite Menus.