More than just desserts

The better-for-you desserts category is in the midst of a flavorful transformation.

The trends overtaking desserts are the same as those currently coursing through the natural aisle and beyond. Gluten-free, non-GMO certified products are in high demand and manufacturers are ready to fill the need. All they need now is for retailers to answer the call to action.

Newmans-Own-Organics-CupsWhile gluten-free and non-GMO are the talk of the natural category, portion control, convenience and portability are trends that resonate throughout the entire store. Industry observers say that these combined trends have completely transformed the better-for-you desserts category.

“So many items that are traditionally considered a dessert have morphed into on-the-gosnacks,” says Peter Meehan, CEO of Newman’s Own Organics, based in Aptos, Calif. “For example, chocolate is in every form you could image. Cakes became cupcakes then cake pops. So many things have happened to make dessert items accessible any time, any place. Everything is portable.”

A good dessert should be satisfying enough that you do not have to overindulge, adds Meehan. Newman’s Own Organics has created its Super Dark Chocolate Cups with Raspberry or Peanut Butter Centers in an attempt to satiate that sweet tooth. Each 1.9-ounce package contains six individual mini-cups and carries the USDA Organic and Rainforest Alliance Certified seals. The suggested retail price per package is $2.79.
Candy, the ultimate on-the-go sweet, is one of the last segments of dessert category to take a turn towards natural.

“When hunger strikes, the last thing consumers want to do is read through a list of unpronounceable ingredients,” says Justin Gold, founder and CEO of Boulder, Colo.-based Justin’s Nut Butter. “That’s why we’ve created a candy bar consumers can feel good about eating.” He says the all-natural candy bars are gluten-free and made with premium chocolate, free of hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and trans fat. The 2-ounce bars are available in Milk Chocolate Peanut, Dark Chocolate Peanut and Milk Chocolate Almond and have a suggested retail price of $1.79.

In addition to bars, Justin’s offers Organic Peanut Butter Cups. Gold says “they are among the fastest growing organic chocolate items at grocery against all other natural competitors, and we want to bring the individually wrapped single cups to shoppers at registers everywhere.” Available in Milk and Dark Chocolate varieties, the cups are available in a .7-ounce, 1-cup package with a suggested retail price of $.99 and a 1.4-ounce, 2-cup package for $1.79. The 100-calorie cups are also available in 20-count caddies for register placement.

Avoiding allergens
Gluten is not the only allergen consumers are concerned about. The top eight food allergens: soy, milk, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, eggs, fish and shellfish, are the main focus of brands like Ian’s Natural Foods and HomeFree.

“At Ian’s we feel that we are pioneering the allergy-friendly category and actually helping to create this new category with a few other companies,” says Chuck Marble, CEO of Ian’s parent company, Elevation Brands. “We’re not just focused on intolerances like gluten, but food allergies in general.”

Ian’s, based in Framingham, Mass., recently introduced new packaging for its allergy-friendly products. Its allergy-friendly cookie buttons are now certified peanut-free and available in Chocolate Chip, Snickerdoodle, Animal Crackers and Oat varieties. Each box of cookie buttons contains six 1-ounce bags with a suggested retail price of $5.99.

Products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are also a huge concern to the allergy-friendly category and its consumers. “As a mother of a child with food allergies, it concerns me that there are currently no reliable, definitive tests which can predict whether or not proteins in genetically engineered foods might trigger an allergic reaction,” says Jill Robbins, president of Windham, N.H.-based HomeFree. “In establishing HomeFree’s exceptionally high standards for ‘allergen-free,’ it has been important to us not only to source ingredients without allergen cross-contamination, but also to source ingredients that are non-GMO.”

Robbins created HomeFree cookies to satisfy the sweet cravings of people with special dietary needs as well as those without. HomeFree’s gluten-free mini cookies are available in 1.1-ounce single-serve bags and 5- or 6-ounce boxes in three flavors: Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip and Vanilla.

In order to bake gluten-free from scratch, consumers must take on the roll of a chemist mixing together the perfect blend of gluten-free flours and starches. By offering consumers a variety of gluten-free baking mixes and products, retailers can gain loyal shoppers while saving them stress and wasted dollars.

With the understanding that it is difficult for consumers to bake gluten-free from scratch, Pamela’s Products recently launched its Artisan Flour Blend. “We advise consumers to work on perfecting their favorite family recipes, not their flour blend,” says Jen Ramstad, director of marketing for the Ukiah, Calif.-based company. “We will do that for them.” Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend is a multi-purpose flour replacement for wheat in most recipes, and includes 10 grams of whole grains per serving. It is made without leavening or sugar and is 100% free of wheat, gluten, dairy, soy and corn. A 24-ounce bag has a suggested retail price of $5.59 while a 4-pound bag has an SRP of $13.75.

Batter Up attempts to take easy baking one step further with its Ready. Set. Cupcake! product of pre-mixed, frozen cake batters and frostings under the The Piping Gourmets banner. Packaged in a pre-filled pastry bag, company officials say the batters can be customized to any consumer’s preference and needs. “Think frozen cookie dough meets cake batter,” says Leslie Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami-based company. “It’s an easier, novel way to bake when the consumer is short on time.” The all natural batters and buttercreams are available in vanilla and chocolate with an SRP of $5.99 to $6.99.

Batter Up also recently introduced a line of gluten-free, non-GMO and vegan Whoopie Pies. The pies come in a frozen, thaw and serve box of four, or as an individually wrapped grab-and-go treat.

Moon Rabbit Foods uses the lesser-known cassava flour to create its gourmet, gluten-free baking mixes. Made from the same root as tapioca flour, cassava flour is the foundation of Moon Rabbit products because it “creates the same type of quality and texture that we are able to create with wheat flours,” says Mark Hetzel, founder of the Weaverville, N.C.-based company. “We are constantly having to reassure consumers that our products are gluten-free because they don’t taste like typical gluten-free products.”

Taste and see
Observers say that in order to capitalize on this expanding category and its limitless options, manufacturers turn to sampling time and time again. Ramstad of Pamela’s Products is a huge fan of sampling. “Get the product into people’s mouths and let them discover how good gluten-free can be with just one bite,” she says.

“Food can be so expensive these days and consumers are less willing to take a chance on a new product,” says Kathleen King, founder of Tate’s Bake Shop. “Sampling is a great way to ease their fears and attract consumers to our brand.”

Tate’s Bake Shop, based in East Moriches, N.Y., is best known for its gourmet cookies, and company officials hope to quickly make a dent in the gluten-free set. Tate’s currently offers a gluten-free version of its bestselling chocolate chip cookie and a gluten-free brownie. The addition of a new gluten-free facility will increase Tate’s Bake Shop gluten-free product output by 100% and introduce two new cookies to the product line: Ginger Zinger and Double Chocolate Chip.

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