No time like the holidays for indulgent baked goods

This will be a holiday season like no other.

COVID has upended countless aspects of American life, and the fall and winter holidays will be no exception. But what will the impact be on traditional holiday favorites like indulgent baked goods?

There’s no time like the holidays for indulgence, and in the months leading up to the pandemic, consumers were in a very indulgent mood. According to IRI data, packaged pastry and donut sales rose 4-6% in the last four months of 2019 compared to the same period the year before.

But a big chunk of that was driven by parties, school and church events and other large gatherings that will be severely curtailed this season.

On the other hand, after the year we’ve all endured, people will be leaning on the holidays more than ever to cheer themselves up. And indulgent baked goods and other comfort foods will surely play a central role in that.

“Especially during the holidays, consumers are looking for foods that evoke their sense of nostalgia or allow them to relive and recreate fond memories,” said JoAnn RuppGlobal Market Insights Manager of Lenexa, Kan.-based Corbion. “In times of uncertainty, this is particularly true, as consumers search for familiarity and comfort in indulgent baked goods that allow them the opportunity to slow down, reminisce and enjoy something they wouldn’t normally eat.”

That may take the form of a particular flavor that can remind consumers of a good memory, such as red velvet, butterscotch or lemon.

The use of premium ingredients like pure vanilla, deluxe chocolate or real cane sugar can also entice consumers to treat themselves to a more indulgent baked good, Rupp said. In terms of the qualities of baked goods, consumers want new items with exciting flavors, soft textures and sweetness.

And in today’s world, they also want to know exactly what is (or isn’t) in their baked goods. A simple ingredient label is a must, because recognizable, easy-to-understand ingredients remind consumers of the comfort and familiarity of made-from-scratch products.

Indulgent — and clean — solutions

Corbion’s Pristine® line of cake mixes, bases and icing stabilizers helps bakers do just that, by offering a clean-label solution that reduces keystrokes in ingredient labels by up to 42%, all without compromising on taste or texture.

Corbion also offer more traditional emulsifiers like its SweetPro™ solutions, which allow bakery manufacturers to deliver the taste, texture and quality that consumers expect from desserts and other indulgent items.

Pies and cakes remain at the top of the indulgent list at the holidays. From 2018 to 2019, the dollar value of pies and cakes increased from $570.3 million to $607.3 million. Some of the other top indulgent holiday sellers, according to Innova Market Insights, are scones, tarts, cookies and muffins.

“Within these categories, we’ve seen some flavor-inspired launches that borrow from other foods to create holiday-inspired treats, with flavors like coconut — one of the fastest-growing options in holiday products in the US — Honeycrisp apples, sugar cookies and churros,” Rupp said. “More traditional baked goods and flavors typically peak in the latter half of the year, with flavors like cinnamon spice, pumpkin, caramel apple and mint.”

Top performers

During COVID, some indulgent baked goods have fared very well, Rupp said. Pastry and donut sales are up 7.8%, for instance, and cheese-flavored bakery breads from in-store bakeries are up 4.9%. And consumers’ desire for comfort foods has been matched by their need for longer shelf life, since most people aren’t shopping as frequently.

“While we know that these consumers are looking for foods to help them deal with the stresses caused by changes in their day-to-day routines, these types of foods are most likely going to be purchased from the inner aisles of the store,” Rupp said.

While in-store bakeries have been hit hard by the pandemic, they could be in for a big holiday rebound, as more consumers search for traditional, nostalgic and fresh holiday baked goods.

Still, with so many social gatherings canceled in 2020, it’s challenging to predict what the trajectory of holiday sales will be for indulgent baked goods. There are, however, other positive indicators, Rupp said, like the increase in the number of consumers baking at home and more frequent purchases of baked goods across the store, including refrigerated snack cakes and donuts, a category that is up 28% for the period ending Sept. 6.

It’s hard to know exactly what will happen this holiday season, given the way the year has gone so far. But there’s good reason to think that indulgent baked goods will play an even bigger role than they usually do.