Perhaps it’s just how the cookie crumbles. But when it comes to food trends, there are few food categories like bakery foods that illustrate the large gap between what consumers say—and what consumers actually do.

American consumers profess to be concerned about sugar consumption. According to a GlobalData Q3 2016 consumer survey, 51% of Americans say they are trying to limit sugar intake. However, you would never guess that by looking at bakery food innovation; sweet products were hot in 2017.

Hostess Brands led sweet baked goods innovation with Hostess Twinkies Snack Cakes in Cotton Candy and Chocolate Peanut Butter flavors, Hostess Molten Lava Ding Dongs (enjoyed hot after microwaving for 20 seconds), and Hostess Bakery Petites in snack size Cake Delights, Brownie Delights, and Crispi Thins varieties.

Hostess even partnered with confectionery brands from Nestlé and Mars, doubling-down on sugar. Hostess Nestle Butterfinger Brownies and Hostess Sweet Shop Brownies made with Milky Way Bar Pieces and M&M’s Milk Chocolate Pieces were the result. 

Bakers also found innovation inspiration with by ready-to-eat cereal. General Mills’ new frozen Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bites Soft Donut Bites are ready in 30 seconds from the microwave. Bakerly Happy Go Snacky! Crunchy Crepes, a shelf-stable rolled crepe snack in Chocolate and Strawberry flavors, uses crispy rice cereal for added crunch.

McKee Foods and Kellogg Company also were on-trend. McKee debuted Little Debbie S’Mores Cake Rolls and Drake’s Fudge Dipped Devil Dogs. Kellogg launched Jolly Rancher Frosted Pop-Tarts Toaster Pastries. Sweet coffee drinks inspired its Dunkin’ Donuts Frosted Chocolate Mocha and Vanilla Latte Pop-Tarts flavors.  

Snack bar and cookie brands angled for a piece of the action. Mondelez extended its Teddy Grahams brand into sweet baked goods with Teddy Soft Bakes, a soft baked filled snack. Kellogg’s added a sweet extension with its Nutri Grain Bakery Delights Crumb Cake.

The sweet flavor trend influenced innovation in other types of breads and baked goods. Bimbo Bakeries USA added a Blueberry Pancake Swirl flavor of Thomas’ Bread along with S’Mores and Bacon Buttermilk Pancake flavors of Thomas’ English Muffins. 

Bakers also have been eager to cash in on snacking—leading to new “stuffed” products ideal for snacking. Nancy’s Philadelphia Petite Stuffed Bagels from Kraft Heinz Foods are frozen bagels stuffed with flavored cream cheese for a quick “heat and eat” snack. Cole’s Middles Stuffed Bread Snack also is on-trend with flavors like Salty Pretzel Stuffed with Beer Cheese.

Bread went indulgent in 2017. Martin’s Old Fashioned Real Butter Bread celebrates butter’s return to grace. Alfaro’s Artesano Golden Wheat Bakery Bread from Bimbo Bakeries USA is “sliced thick with a mouthwateringly soft texture.” 

But bread and baked goods also addressed “better for you” trends with vegetable ingredients. Hybread Baked with Benefits Sliced Loaf Veggie Whole Grain Bread is tinted green from green leafy vegetables like kale, romaine lettuce, and spinach. One serving has more than “150% of your daily dark green vegetables.”

Vedgee Wraps are made with 100% vegetable puree in flavors like Garden Cucumber; while Wrawp Organic Veggie Wraps are “made with real vegetables and superfood spices,” a raw and paleo alternative to grain-based wraps. BFree Be Wheat & Gluten Free Sweet Potato Wraps are made with nutrient-rich sweet potatoes. Garden Lites Frozen Waffles are made with vegetables like butternut squash and carrots accounting for 23% of the content of each waffle.

Protein continues to trend as a healthful ingredient. Just more than one-third of Americans say they are trying to eat as much protein as possible, says a 2016 Q3 GlobalData survey. Dave’s Killer Bread Organic Bagels rang the high protein bell with an Epic Everything bagel delivering 12g of protein.  Kodiak Cakes Power Waffles Frozen Waffles have 12g of protein per waffle in flavors like Dark Chocolate.

Food allergy concerns inspired still more alternatives to grain-based products. Qrunch Organics Quinoa Breakfast Toastables are a French toast stick-like alternative made with ancient grains (quinoa, millet, and amaranth) and free of most common food allergens. Kitchfix Grain-Free Waffles are made with flaxseed, cassava flour, coconut flour, and are grain-, gluten-, and nut-free.

Ancient grains added panache to Ortega Good Grains Taco Shells with White Corn & Chia Seeds. Brooklyn Bred Ancient Grains All Natural Pizza Crust used organic Khorasan flour for a change of pace.

Other noteworthy launches included a trio of frozen waffles from Kellogg, all based on kid appealing character shapes. Eggo Waffles shaped like Spider-Man, Mickey Mouse, and Star Wars characters were new. 

Brazilian cheese bread is a development to watch for the future. Brazi Bites Brazilian Cheese Bread debuted in new flavors like Garlic Asiago as the ethnic favorite (which is made with tapioca flour) grew. Brazi Bites sales rose from $1 million in 2015 to $8.5 million in 2016. The frozen brand can be found in 4,000 US stores.


The Cookie Jar

Cookies and crackers provided new product fireworks in 2017, in one case, literally. Mondelez launched Firework Oreo mid-year, a new Oreo cookie with a popping candy cream filling, adding new experiential elements to the iconic brand.

Mondelez deluged the market with a flood of other new flavors for Oreo including Jelly Donut, Cookie Butter, Apple Pie, Dunkin’ Donuts Mocha, Peeps, and Mystery Flavor. The latter gave consumers the chance to win $50,000 by guessing the “mystery” flavor of cream (later revealed to be Fruity Pebbles cereal). Also going the limited time route was Kellogg with its Keebler Fudge Stripes Strawberry Cheesecake Cookies.

There is evidence that the Oreo limited time flavor blitz is losing steam. Yet that is not the case for Oreo Thins, now a $100+ million brand which added a Coconut Crème flavor mid-year. Mondelez also extended its Chips Ahoy! Thins line with Oatmeal and Double Chocolate flavors.

The success of Oreo Thins encouraged other cookie brands to go thin. Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Crafted Thin & Crispy Cookies, Brent & Sam’s Thin & Crispy Premium Gourmet Cookies, and Snack Factory Dessert Thins all picked up this trend.

Cookie makers found new ways to champion indulgence. Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch Bar is a new hybrid cookie/candy bar that looks like a chocolate bar on the outside, but has a center of cookie bits and crème. Susie’s Filled Cookies in flavors like Cookie Butter offers an indulgent soft and creamy center plus a creamy topping for a double-dose of flavor. Beer Kissed Beer Infused Cookies added beer flavors like Black & Tan, Raspberry Lambic to the cookie market.

Cookie makers added multiple textures and flavor elements to cookies. Nature Valley Granola Cups granola cookies are topped with a creamy filling, offering almond butter and multiple textures, two things that General Mills says snack lovers crave.

The breakfast biscuit sector cooled in 2017. Mondelez’s pioneering BelVita brand stayed active, though, adding yogurt to its BelVita Breakfast Sandwich Biscuits. BelVita Gingerbread Breakfast Biscuits saw the genre go seasonal.

As with bread and baked goods, protein powered cookie innovation. Whey 2 Be! Cookies are so bullish on whey protein that whey protein is part of the brand name. NuGo Protein Cookies are just as enthusiastic over pea protein. Sold in flavors like Dark Chocolate Chip, each vegan cookie has 16g of pea protein.

Munk Pack Protein Cookie and Soul Sprout Almond Butter Power Bite showed two extremes within the protein cookie genre. Munk Pack is a vegan cookie (with brown rice protein) for “chocolate lovers” in flavors like Double Dark Chocolate. Whey protein-based Soul Sprout is for the serious exercise enthusiast, and should be consumed between workout sessions for optimal muscle building and repair.

“Better for you” cookie innovation included Farm & Oven Bakery Bites, a vegetable- and probiotic-rich cookie in flavors like Carrot Cinnamon and Beet Dark Chocolate providing “40% of your daily veggie needs.”

Avoidance of allergens powered a pair of novel cookies. Booby Boons Lactation Cookies for breastfeeding mothers are wheat-, soy-, corn-, and nut-free and can increase breast milk supply naturally. Safe + Fair Abby’s Cookies are “totally safe” for anyone allergic to peanuts or tree nuts. The product is a re-brand and re-launch of what used to be the Skeeter Nut Free brand.


We’ve Gone Crackers

Crackers are expected to outpace cookies when it comes to growth. Per GlobalData, crackers (savory biscuits) are projected to see volume expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.73% for the period from 2016 to 2021. Cookies (sweet biscuits) are projected to have a CAGR of 1.56% over the same period.

The big news in crackers for 2017 was a new cracker brand from Mondelez. Véa “delivers real ingredients in unique combinations crafted from globally-inspired recipes” to an audience of Millennials, 81% of whom are said to enjoy exploring new cultures through food. Seed Crackers in flavors like Greek Hummus with Olive Oil and World Crisps in flavors like Andean Quinoa and Spices are flavor highlights.

Flavor sophistication extended to Mondelez’s Triscuit brand with new flavors like Ginger & Lemongrass, Fig & Honey, and Nutmeg & Cinnamon (the latter for the holidays). Peter’s Yard Sourdough Crispbread is made with sourdough, a type of dough allowed to ferment for 16 hours before each batch is made. The thin cracker offers a light snacking option in flavors like Pink Peppercorn.

The trend toward thin, airy, and crispy snacks was also echoed by Snyder’s of Hanover Wholey Cheese Crispy Baked Crackers which have holes—like Swiss cheese—for extra crunch and fewer calories. 

More foods are adopting signature meal flavors. Cheez-It Buffalo Wing Baked Snack Crackers takes the popular Buffalo chicken wing flavor and runs with it. Cornbread, long associated with chili, powers Trader Joe’s Cornbread Crisps.

Protein’s link with energy-enhancement proved to be a draw for cracker makers, with plant protein rising. Snyder-Lance added Lance Power Break Granola Sandwich Crackers, said to be crunchy, nutty, and peanut-buttery. I Won Organics Sea Salt Protein Crackers have 15g of plant-based protein from pea protein in each serving. 

Originally appeared in the March, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as Oven Lovin'.