Sweet wise: how to get desserts right

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Big numbers: some 1.5bn desserts were consumed in the out-of-home market in the year to November 2017, according to global information company The NPD Group.(image credit: unalozm/istock/thinkstockphotos.co.uk)
Big numbers: some 1.5bn desserts were consumed in the out-of-home market in the year to November 2017, according to global information company The NPD Group.(image credit: unalozm/istock/thinkstockphotos.co.uk)

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Though desserts are traditionally the final taste diners have of a meal, it also means the dish will be their last impression, making it crucial operators get it right.

Operators should take heed of the latest trends in desserts because they offer some interesting perspectives on what consumers desire.

In the 12 months to November 2017, 1.5bn desserts were consumed in the out-of-home market, according to global information company The NPD Group.

Total food servings for the 12 months to November last year, compared to the previous year, have grown by 4% and even though sweet bakery is in growth, it is more subdued at 1%.

Although desserts have not returned to the highs seen in 2008, three dishes that are leading the way are cookies, brownies and doughnuts.

These three items all have more servings in foodservice today than in 2008. But while consumers are looking towards less traditional dessert dishes, an overarching trend that is taking the sector by storm also plays a big part in puds.

Health hasn’t missed the ice cream market out, as Mintel research shows that the share of global dessert and ice cream launches featuring a vegan claim rose from 2% in 2014 to 3% in 2015, and 4% in 2016, with Europe accounting for more than half (59%) of all launches in 2016.

Pidy UK can offer pubs something to fill a hole for healthy customers with a sweet tooth with bite sized mini desserts.

Pidy foodservice national account manager Fabien Levet says: “The trend for lighter eating and smaller treats continues to rise because they are the perfect solution for customers who would prefer an indulgent mouthful served with a hot beverage, rather than something that’s too rich and filling after a big meal.

“Pub chefs can still go all-out with the delicious fillings and give customers a little taster. Smaller versions also lend themselves well to sharing boards or trios of different desserts.

“These always prove popular because they give customers an opportunity to try a little bit of everything.”

Variety may well be the spice of life, particularly in the desserts market, but keeping waste to a minimum can also benefit a pub’s bottom line.

Distributor Central Foods believes using frozen ingredients is the key to reducing such waste. Managing director Gordon Lauder says: “According to the British Frozen Food Federation, 95% of chefs are now stocking and using frozen ingredients, 94% said it reduced waste as it offered better portion control and 82% claimed that frozen food could help with long-term menu planning.

“Fewer people are needed to prep and serve pre-prepared frozen food and they don’t require such a high level of skill, meaning other kitchen staff are free to concentrate on what they are best at – preparing and serving the freshly cooked items. This is key as the skills gap continues to cause problems across the sector.”

Make desserts a show-stopper

While frozen can be cost efficient, choosing ingredients that are in season can help you stand out from the crowd.

Chef-patron of the Longs Arms, in South Wraxall, Wiltshire, Rob Allcock says: “Seasonal is the most important thing for us.

“We keep changing the desserts to be not only seasonal but weekly – it keeps my skills fresh and the customers salivating.

“It is really important to us that the desserts hold their own, are strong dishes, show off seasonal ingredients and are real show-stoppers as they are the last thing, other than our chocolates, that customers experience.

“Our home-made ice cream is a real winner. We have at least 30 flavours from Jaffa Cake, Black Jack and Eccles cake to Marmite to name just a few.

“Desserts are more important than any other course in my humble opinion.”

Echoing Allcock’s comments on the diner’s last thoughts of a meal being based on dessert, food supplier Kff managing director Chris Beckley says: “A quality range of desserts ensures customers finish their meal on a high and leave a long-lasting impression.

“To cater for this, restaurants and pubs have started to demand more premium-quality desserts and ice creams.”

He also mentions a pattern that is coming up through the ranks in the dessert market – personalisation.

Beckley adds: “One trend that is having a real impact on sales for the better is customisable or build-your-own desserts.

“Gone are the days of just chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavourings. Instead, caterers are placing creative control in the hands of their customers to drive dessert sales.”

Matching quality

Ice cream is a fail-safe dessert dish, popular with consumers of all ages. Simply Ice Cream has 32 flavours in its range and can create bespoke flavours in individual pots or larger quantities.

MD Sally Newall highlights the importance of having a good-quality ice cream and likens serving it as a side dish to a popular spirit and mixer combination.

She says: “If pubs are producing a good-quality artisan dessert, to serve a sub-standard ice cream is such a shame as it will be watery and flavourless, it will potentially melt and spoil the dessert.

“Like quality tonic with an artisan gin, it is really important that the quality of complementary dishes is matched.”

New Forest Ice Cream offers more than 40 different flavoured ice creams and sorbets and recommends pubs have at least seven to eight options for diners.

Alongside some classic tastes such as vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, operators can be more adventurous when choosing other flavours and rotate these regularly to suit different seasons and enhance difference desserts.

Emily Watkins, chef-proprietor of the award-winning Kingham Plough in Oxfordshire, has made her own ice cream for the past 11 years, from when she took on the pub.

She sticks to ‘quirky, British’ flavours rather than traditional ice cream flavours such as chocolate and vanilla.

She adds: “You can get chocolate ice cream anywhere. There are some exceptional ones already out there and I’m not out to beat anyone’s chocolate ice cream.”

Clearly there are still big gains to be had from desserts but, in order to boost their profits, operators need to ensure they are offering consumers a plethora of choices when it comes to the final dish. 

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