Vegetables are invading a host of sweet categories from fruit juice to ice cream, yogurt and breakfast cereals, often replacing fruit due to consumer concern over the sugar content of products using fruits. Vegetable cake recipes in the Western world have long been seen in the domain of cake blogs and celebrity chef websites, but have had limited exposure in packaged retail offerings to date. However, this is likely to change in coming years. The base is already there with the established carrot cake variety, but other naturally sweet vegetables such as beetroot, parsnips, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and courgettes can add flavour and texture to cakes, and help keep them fresh and moist. Courgette and beetroot partner especially well with chocolate, suggesting potential to introduce the new tastes alongside an established and universally popular flavour. Beetroot is a particularly en vogue root vegetable because of its health benefits, and is seeing increasing use across the food sector. Like carrot, parsnips and pumpkin, beetroot can pair well with spices, suggesting autumn/winter seasonal appeal.

Vegetables can help improve health perceptions and meet demand for variety

Given consumer concern over the sugar content of cakes, naturally sweet vegetables could offer an alternative. According to Mintel’s Cakes and Cake Bars UK 2017 Report, six in 10 consumers who have eaten cakes or cake bars in the last three months believe manufacturers should reduce the sugar content of cakes. According to the same report, low-sugar options would encourage one third of consumers to eat more cakes. Meanwhile, over half of consumers in Germany, Spain and Poland agree there is not a wide enough selection of healthy cakes in supermarkets, and using vegetables could help address the perception that cakes are inherently unhealthy. Vegetables also offer solutions to the demand for new flavours, especially among Millennials, in the cake offering. All these factors contribute to strong interest in cakes made with vegetables.

M&S launch the latest to bring vegetables into sweet bakery

Major grocery retailers are starting to experiment with vegetables in more premium private label cake lines. Canada’s Loblaw’s has launched a Chocolate Zucchini Rustic Cake under its President’s Choice label, whilst Asda in the UK launched an Extra Special Hand Finished Carrot, Courgette and Orange Loaf Cake. A recent launch by retailer M&S in the UK is particularly innovative. A lime, carrot and courgette cupcake made with spelt flour and coconut features in a range of cakes made with fruits, vegetables and alternative flours.

The use of vegetables in sweet bakery is well established in Asian markets, where azuki beans, mung beans, sweet potato and taro are popular flavour profiles. But vegetable use, with the notable exception of carrot, is much less developed elsewhere in the world. According to Mintel GNPD, vegetables as a flavour component in sweet bakery were seen on 7% of launches in Asia in 2016, making it the third largest flavour subgroup behind chocolate and fruit. In Europe, just 1% of sweet bakery launches featured vegetable flavours. The number of launches featuring vegetable flavours is in sharp growth in Europe, albeit from a small base. There is every indication that this trend will continue, and will likely attract the attention of mainstream brand owners.

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Cukiernia Siej Chocolate Cake with Beetroot and Maize Flour (Poland)
Asda Extra Special Hand Finished Carrot, Courgette and Orange Loaf Cake (UK)
President’s Choice Chocolate Zucchini Rustic Cake (Canada)

Chris Brockman is Research Manager, Food and Drink, EMEA region at Mintel. During a near 20-year research career, Chris has worked with many of the leading global food and drink producers and retailers. Prior to Mintel, Chris led a team undertaking research on food ingredient sectors and tracking global innovation trends. He also led a research team at an export market consultancy for the food and drink sector.

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