Alyssa Hangartner
Alyssa is a Consumer Insights Analyst - Flavor and Ingredient Trends at Mintel. She combines product development experience and Mintel's extensive consumer research to provide realistic and innovative insights on a category level.

The uncertainty and disruption of 2020 and beyond left consumers turning to familiar, comforting retail products to find emotional support, driving up sales for dessert and confection categories. Frozen products grew the most in terms of sales, but all categories experienced notable growth. Comfort and familiarity also play a significant role in flavor selection within the category, which is designed primarily to invoke pleasure, fun and even stress relief. Flavor profiles and products with established loyalty among consumers are being renovated through new formats and co-branded innovation to create a new experience, but with a strong sense of familiarity.

Leverage the power of nostalgia

According to upcoming Mintel research on trending flavors and ingredients in desserts and confections nearly half of consumers like desserts that remind them of their childhood which is inspiring and guiding retail brands and operators to feature long-established flavor profiles in new innovation. Nostalgic flavors and products bring a sense of comfort, in a time when consumers seem more affected by stress than ever before. Desserts and confection flavors that solidified a sweet spot in consumer repertoires remove the barrier of trying an unfamiliar flavor in a category where consumers are looking for guaranteed enjoyment. In addition, hybrid products remove the decision consumers are faced with to choose just one option among several favorite treat categories.

Co-branded products and mix-and-match flavors create novelty

Young consumers are a salient audience for hybrid innovation with more than two in five Millennials and Gen Z consumers indicating interest in dessert and candy mashups, according to upcoming Mintel research on trending flavors and ingredients in desserts and confections. Brands and foodservice operators alike are crisscrossing product categories from soda to cereal to deliver consumers a playful and even somewhat nostalgic experience.

Long-established cereals, including Froot Loops, Cornflakes and Fruity Pebbles, have been mixing into a range of dessert categories to create novelty and draw in consumers with a soft spot for these legacy brands. Weiner schnitzel introduced a Froot Loop dipped ice cream cone and shake as a limited time offer in May of 2021 and Shake Shack introduced a Cherry Cola-flavored shake in the summer of 2021, tapping into a fan favorite soda flavor in an unexpected category. Co-branding isn’t the only option either: borrowing flavors from adjacent categories into new dessert innovation leverages the power of positive associations and creates the opportunity to appeal to an already wide and established audience.

Co-branded trending products

Duncan Hines Epic Fruity Pebbles Cake Mix

 

Milk Bar Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Ice Cream

Kraft Heinz Kit Kat Colliders Twisted Vanilla Flavored Dessert with Kit Kat crumbles

Pudding and brownies are perfectly positioned for hybrid innovation

Brownies and pudding, while consumed by a smaller segment of consumers, are ripe for innovation featuring co-branding and blurred lines between confection and dessert categories. Leverage the popularity of top categories like ice cream, chocolate candy and cookies to inspire new flavors in pudding and brownies. For example, cookie or chocolate candy inclusions in pudding or brownie mixes can encourage new consumers to explore these less frequently consumed varieties and keep pudding and brownie loyalists engaged through new flavor and ingredient innovation.

What we think

Brands have been elevating the familiar foundations laid by classic treats with co-branded varieties and category blurring to increase appeal among consumers, including the notable segment of young consumers interested in dessert and candy mashups. Innovation featuring cereal, candy and even popular soda flavors are popping up across dessert subcategories and we expect to see hybrid innovation continue to trend due to the power of familiarity and limitless potential of new collaborations.