Ups and downs for frozen desserts

When it comes to dessert, U.S. consumers are shunning some frozen treats in favor of fresh options. According to global market research firm Mintel, retail sales of frozen cakes and pies dropped 2.4 percent between 2009 and 2014, while those of their non-frozen prepared counterparts rose 24 percent during the same timeframe to reach $11.2 billion.

What's more, consumers are indulging in fresh cakes and pies for occasions that go beyond dessert. New Mintel research reveals that 41 percent of U.S. consumers claim to eat prepared cakes and pies as a between-meal snack. What's more, 42 percent indicate they are willing to try new flavors of these items.

"The snacking mindset has permeated the dessert segment, as people are mindful of what they eat, but at the same time, want to indulge and treat themselves as well," said Amanda Topper, food analyst, Mintel. "Much as we've seen with the high-end cupcake and doughnut trends, consumers are willing to pay a little bit extra for a small indulgence made with quality ingredients."

Store brands command the largest market share — 38 percent — within the fresh prepared cakes and pies category, Mintel noted. Retailers might find opportunity to further grow share here by catering to snacking occasions and innovating in terms of flavor and ingredients.

"Over two-thirds of consumers have eaten some type of ready-to-eat cake or pie within the past six months, and the majority are open to experimenting with flavors," Topper notes. "To that end, they can stay interested with hybrid flavors such as sweet and salty options or seasonal and limited-edition varieties."

Natural ingredients also are important to consumers, Topper added, as are easy-to-read ingredient lists.

"At the end of the day, people are willing to indulge, but they just want to make sure the calories are worth it."

Despite their declining interest in frozen cakes and pies, U.S. consumers appear to be more than willing to hit retailers' freezer cases to purchase other dessert options: namely, ice cream and related products. A new report from the Packaged Facts division of Rockville, Md.-based notes that this market might be mature, but it's still growing. And healthful items — including low-fat, fat-free and no-sugar-added formulations, as well as dairy-free alternatives, all-natural fruit sorbet and new frozen Greek yogurt products — have become a big part of the mix and will continue to reinvigorate the segment. Retailers might want to consider the healthful trend in new product development going forward.

"The move toward healthier frozen desserts has also led to new flavor trends, namely the rising popularity of coconut-flavored products," Packaged Facts stated. "A 'health halo' surrounds coconut and coconut products, as coconut is acknowledged for its inherent nutritional properties, as well as its potential as a substitute for sweeteners."

For more information about the Packaged Facts report, visit