After months of home baking, consumers deserve a sweet treat that they haven't cooked themselves – and here's where indulgent pâtisserie and colourful viennoiserie can lure them in. Ian Boughton reports
It is now some time since the concept of ‘interesting bakery' first appeared, and what we have usefully learned is not just that customers now expect absolute quality in the sector, but also that they will pay for it.
This, say suppliers, has allowed them to work on new products that will excite the interest of the customer and be profitable for the caterer.
Home baking during lockdown has been very useful in moving customers upmarket, says Hannah Morter, category manager at Country Choice. Consumers have become used to a high-quality and freshly baked product.
"Home baking has given consumers the taste for higher-quality bakery products in general, but an interesting note is that while baking bread at home was immensely popular, very few consumers tried to make sweet pastries at home – and even fewer were successful! Consumers are now looking to treat themselves to these luxuries they were denied during lockdown."
Here is the clue, agree all suppliers. Consumers want quality, and they want items they cannot make for themselves.
"The bakery category has had a challenging year, but there is a real opportunity to drive growth," agrees Kate Sykes, marketing manager at Lantmännen Unibake. She says that "something fresh and authentic, that demonstrates skill and provenance, will appeal most."
A typical move by Lantmännen is a new version of the chocolate twist, said to be the third best-seller in the viennoiserie sector: "The popularity of the chocolate twist has been growing and is essential to any sweet bakery offering," says Sykes. "It is made from light, flaky pastry, a buttery, laminated dough filled with smooth vanilla custard cream, and just the right amount of chocolate chips to produce an intense chocolate flavour."
And, she adds, Danish pastry is a rising star, according to statistics: "Over half of Brits eat Danish pastries and croissants weekly, and 57% would choose a Danish as a treat between meals. However, operational limitations are the barrier, so our new collection of Danishes is fully baked and enables operators to offer customers a treat at any time of day. All they have to do is thaw and serve."
The muffin is still the go-to sweet bakery classic, says Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager at Dawn Foods, but it now has to be excellent quality.
"An expanse of dry sponge is real turn-off, and consumers want more than the usual plain, blueberry or chocolate muffin, so innovative flavours are a must, like Sicilian lemon, for example. Muffins supplied ‘finished-frozen' for defrosting and serving are simple, save time and wastage, and allow a bigger variety of products. Crunchy toppings can also add texture and interest."
Dawn Foods' salted caramel muffins feature fudge pieces and a sweet caramel filling, while its new mixed berry muffin has flavoured berries in a vanilla muffin and is finished with a raspberry injection and sugar nibs. "There is still a lot to be said for the classic cookies and muffins, if they are of a high standard," remarks John Want, marketing director at Rich's. "If people are going to indulge, they now want luxurious products that are ‘worth the calories'.
"Consumers are interested in seeing mash-ups between format and flavours, so putting a popular flavour in an unexpected format is a way to delight your customer," he explains. "For example, we had high demand at Easter for a cookie with the flavours of a hot cross bun, and our toffee apple muffin will hit the market in the autumn.
"We also make swirls in a number of flavours, including lemon, autumnal toffee and Christmas cranberry with orange. We've seen a demand for products with stand-out ingredients, such as sea-salted caramel, pecans or coffee-infused bakes."
There is a bigger demand than you might think for the doughnut, says general manager Kevin Hughes at bakery group La Lorraine, with its Donut Worry, Be Happy products.
"Twenty-four per cent of customers are buying doughnuts as a form of dessert," says Hughes. "Accurate market forecasting was difficult in 2020, but there is optimism that the sweet baked goods market is set to recover at pace because it is a versatile, low-contact, value proposition. This is really good news for caterers looking at sweet treats as part of their recovery plan.
"According to research, 90% of sweet bakery customers are open to buying doughnuts, making it one of the most dynamic bakery segments – and it's worth considering that 75% of doughnut purchases are impulse buys.
"Before Covid, doughnuts sold best mid-morning and mid-late afternoon, at break times, but now many consumers see them as a form of dessert. To get this right, you need combinations of unexpected yet complementary flavours, contrasting textures, and you must be able to promise indulgence with fewer consequences – doughnuts with lighter dough mean your customers don't feel full so quickly."
Callebaut says that an essential item is now the ‘bright bake': "A ‘bright bake' is a colourful dessert," explains gourmet marketing manager Anna Sentance. "With customers now prepared to pay more for premium baked products, operators should look to offer showstopping, vibrant bakes that stand out. It is important because consumers now share their treats on social media, and the more exciting your treats are, the more consumers will post."
Typical Callebaut products to help in this are chocolate cups, which are shaped containers allowing for the creative presentation of small desserts, filled with anything from ice-cream and mousses to fruits. Notably, says Callebaut, new flavour combinations have grown in popularity.
"Some of our new ideas are chocolate beetroot cake and chocolate banoffee pie," explains Sentance. "The idea of chocolate and beetroot is intriguing, but they work surprisingly well together, and the earthy tones in the beetroot give the chocolate another layer of flavour."
Different ingredients are increasingly turning up in our sweet treats, agrees Fabien Levet, commercial manager at Pidy. "There's been a real surge in ingredients that we wouldn't typically consider ‘sweet', such as avocado, bacon and beetroot, tahini, even bacon and maple syrup."
Pidy's ready-to-fill pastry tartlets allow chefs more time to focus on their fillings and not worry about making the cases.
"A way to elevate cakes and bakes is the clever use of decor," says Tracey Hughes, managing director at Henley Bridge. Her Hillbo collection of chocolate decor items includes shapes and curls in a variety of colours. "They add a pop of colour to bakes, for which caterers can charge a premium."
And new flavours are a bonus, she agrees: "Matcha works beautifully in cakes, incorporate in a sponge mix for a lovely flavour and a vibrant green bake. Passion fruit is another big flavour for summer and our Sosa freeze-dried passion fruit powder has an amazing colour and flavour."
Supplier Dezaan has developed cocoa blends in some astonishing colours, from gold to terracotta, which can be used with interesting ingredients, says development chef Talia Profet. "Current trends include boozy bakes and colourful cakes. What is interesting is how classic cakes are being adapted, like the cocoa Victoria sponge, and we think beer-infused cocoa bundt cakes will grow in popularity, such as a dark-chocolate Guinness cake."
Viennoiserie is one of the ultimate comfort foods, so operators should stock premium versions of traditional favourites, says Stéphanie Brillouet, marketing director at Délifrance.
"High-end viennoiserie means skilled crafting and quality. It's not acceptable to use sub-standard ingredients, because it shows – it's obvious if a croissant has been made with margarine or a low percentage of butter – it lacks the crunchy outer layer and soft, melt-in-the-mouth middle. This can only be achieved through quality ingredients and the skill of viennoiserie layering."
Buns, bread and bakery
The same goes for other hand-held baked goods, says David Jones, marketing director at Pan'Artisan. "The home-baking boom created by lockdown revealed consumers' appreciation of craft and artisan-baked goods. As supermarket shelves emptied of flour, Instagram was awash with images of highly decorated focaccias, artisanal sourdoughs and colourful cloud breads.
"For a tasty bake-off sandwich carrier that offers something different, the Tasca range of pre-baked, folded, soft bread pockets are great for portion control, and are now available in three flavour variants."
The biggest barriers to working with baked products are forecasting demand and thawing frozen products, says Scott Oakes, commercial manager at the St Pierre Group.
"One of the most frustrating areas for caterers is food waste through forecasting and stock management, and Covid has made this even harder. The feedback we get from the trade for staple products like bread and buns is always ‘we know we'll get it wrong… just how much will we get it wrong by?'"
Frozen stock is not the answer, he says. "Freezing and thawing can compromise the quality. Our products are supplied ambient to avoid any risk that the product will break up when it is thawed. It's a common complaint of brioche, for example, that the signature glaze can crack on frozen products. With ours, products can simply be stored until served. Our packaging process ensures that the bread is protected against micro-organisms to prevent mould. We also supply smaller pack sizes, so you only need to open what you will use."
A surprising figure from Mission Foods is that almost a third of British consumers tried Mexican food in the past year. Here again, says development chef Kim Hartley, is where a baked product benefits from imaginative twists – wraps are now available in flavours from chocolate to beetroot, and there is a new naan wrap. Although their wraps still pay homage to the informal handheld-eating styles of traditional Mexican cuisine, says the company, checking out new ideas allows a chef to devise eye-catching new menu items.
Country Choice 0344 892 0399 www.countrychoice.co.uk
Callebaut 01295 224700 www.fortheloveofchoc.com
Dawn Foods 01386 760843 www.dawnfoods.com/uk
Délifrance 0116 257 1871 www.delifrance.com/uk
Dezaan +31 (0)756464347 www.dezaan.com
Ferrero 0208 869 4000 www.ferrerofoodservice.com
Henley Bridge 01273 476721 www.hbingredients.co.uk
La Lorraine 0161 765 3300 www.donutworrybehappy.co.uk
Lantmännen 01276 850500 www.lantmannen-unibake.co.uk
Mission Foodservice 02476 710704 www.missionfoodservice.co.uk
Pan'Artisan 01730 811490 www.panartisan.com
Pidy 01604 705666 www.pidy.co.uk
Rich's 0330 060 5100 www.richs.co.uk
St Pierre Groupe 0161 946 1355 www.stpierregroupe.com
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