Faced with ongoing uncertainty and disruption of COVID-19, consumers have turned to familiar, comforting retail products to find emotional support. In particular, many categories of packaged desserts and confections are enjoying greater sales and frozen desserts, in particular, are thriving.

Interestingly, manufacturers have used this challenging period to explore new formats and co-branded innovations. It’s all to give consumers an experience that’s both new, yet accompanied by a comforting degree of familiarity.

Mintel has upcoming research on trending flavors and ingredients in desserts and confections. These studies already suggest that nearly half of consumers like desserts that remind them of childhood. This data certainly is inspiring and guiding retail brands and operators to feature long-established flavor profiles in new menu creations.

Nostalgic flavors and products bring a sense of comfort, in a time when consumers seem more affected by stress. The bottom line is that consumers want guaranteed enjoyment in a dessert purchase and they’re less likely to try an unfamiliar flavor. Meanwhile, new familiar “hybrid” desserts give consumers more fun flavor options—instead of having to choose just one treat category.


Create Novelty with Co-Branded Products, Mix-and-Match Flavors

Young consumers are an ideal audience for hybrid innovation. Mintel’s upcoming report suggests that two in five Millennial and/or Gen Z consumers are interested in dessert and candy “mash-ups.”

From soda to cereal, Mintel already finds evidence of brands and foodservice operators crisscrossing product categories and giving consumers nostalgic experiences. Long-established cereals such as Froot Loops and Corn Flakes (Kellogg’s) and Fruity PEBBLES (Post Consumer Brands) have mixed into a range of dessert categories to create novelty and attract those consumers who a soft spot for these legacy brands. Last spring saw Weinerschnitzel introduce a Froot Loops dipped ice cream cone and shake as a limited time offer. This May, Shake Shack leveraged a fan favorite soda flavor (cherry) and created a Cherry Pop Shake.

Co-branding isn’t the only interesting new angle. Operators also could consider borrowing flavors from adjacent categories for new dessert innovations. These can leverage the power of positive associations and appeal to an already wide and established audience. For example, popular branded puddings and brownies also could be suited for hybrid innovation.

Where’s the next “sweet spot” for dessert innovation? Mintel expects to see more creativity and collaborations tap into the power of fun new mash-ups, familiarity, nostalgia.