nina | November 8th, 2013 - 9:00 am

Baked sweets are moving out of the post-dinner shadows and into new dayparts.

The rise of cupcake concepts has helped turn baked desserts into a common snacking item.

Baked desserts aren’t always at the forefront of customers’ dining decisions, but that doesn’t mean they need to be an afterthought. Cookies, cakes, pies, and other sweets have made their way onto menus of all types of limited-service restaurants, giving operators additional sales opportunities during lunch, dinner, and, increasingly, snacking periods. Dessert is no longer only an end-of-the-meal occasion, but an all-the-time snacking occasion.Items with chocolate and fruit seem to be on the rise, and higher-quality ingredients are being used in some newer products being added to menus.Consumers are becoming more thoughtful about their dietary choices when they eat out, so desserts should be memorable and innovative to make it worth their selection. Operators want to provide desserts that can fetch a premium price and also provide portability and high-speed service, while consumers are looking for value, food quality, taste, and menu differentiation.

Premium cookies, handheld fruit pies, high-quality cupcakes, and novelty favorites like whoopie pies have been popping up at a variety of restaurants.

We all grew up with baked desserts. They’re familiar, homey, and reminiscent of childhood. With consumers’ schedules growing more hectic, there’s little time to bake for themselves, Soforenko says, allowing operators to fill the void.

The number of baked dessert items on limited-service menus in the first quarter of 2013 actually declined 3.6 percent over the past year.

There has been an increase in the most popular baked dessert at quick serves and fast casuals: cookies, particularly chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookies have plenty of appeal and are relatively inexpensive.  They’re just a great option, and a safe starting ground for any operator that wants to offer a simple dessert.

Statistics show that the number of cookie offerings at limited-service units in this year’s second quarter grew 25 percent over the same period in 2010.

Cookies are an easy snack to grab, and it goes with coffee or other beverages. It’s a small indulgence, easy to serve, and it seems like every register has a cookie next to it, including at sub shops and bakery cafés.

Many additional limited-service baked desserts were created by bakery cafés, where cookies, brownies, and other pastries are natural offerings.

Handheld pies have been part of the quick-service industry for years. Pie slices are a longtime staple at other quick serve restaurants.

The comfort of home and hearth is a reason cupcakes recently had a successful re-emergence. It’s nice to sit down, have a baked treat, and indulge for a while.

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