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Seasonal desserts: What customers want

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Operators know customers love to see seasonal, local and sustainable offerings on menus. But let’s face it. It’s hard to meet these customers halfway in mid- to late February. That goes double this year, when much of the country is stuck in the deep freeze. We bet that even the farmers who participate in the growing number of year-round farmer’s markets—there are 114 in New York State alone—have had it up to here with hardy root crops and are praying for spring by now.

But while it may be challenging to provide customers with a wide range of seasonally themed starters and entrees at the moment, it’s a different story for desserts. Especially now that the trend experts from Geneva, IL-based flavor company FONA International have shared findings of proprietary research that pinpoints the dessert flavors consumers crave during each season of the year.

For its online survey study, FONA gave its 380 mostly adult participants a lengthy list of flavors sorted by season. Respondents were then asked to rank their preferences.

The results give operators a clear of idea of which items and flavors might be added, subtracted or featured on their dessert menu for each season of the year.

Here’s what flavors survey respondents told FONA they like, season by season:

1. Carrot cake
2. Berry angel food cake
3. Creme de menthe
4. Lemon lavender
5. Grapefruit

1. Pink lemonade
2. Pound cake
3. Root beer float
4. Vanilla almond
5. S’mores

1. Caramel apple
2. Apple cider
3. Pumpkin pie
4. Pecan pie
5. Hazelnut

1. Snickerdoodle
2. Dark chocolate peppermint
3. Red velvet
4. Gingerbread
5. Chai white chocolate

FONA’s primary business is developing flavors and extracts for food manufacturers. Of late, seasonal offerings have really taken off in this corner of the food world. “Over the past five years, seasonal food and drink launches have increased 94 percent in North America. In 2009, 812 products carried the claim, but in 2013 there were more than 1,500,” the company notes.

What’s the rationale behind all these product introductions? “Seasonal flavors incorporated into menu items and product launches throughout the year give consumers a new reason to engage with the brand and build excitement. Highlighting seasonal flavors has increased, perhaps tying to the local and sustainable movements, with consumers more interested in the ingredients available at that time,” FONA experts say.

This company’s advice isn’t meant to be restaurant-specific. But it nevertheless seems to provide valuable guidelines about what restaurant customers crave at certain times of the year. Whether you buy your desserts from an outside vendor or have a pastry chef who makes them in-house, you may wish to keep this list handy whenever you’re redesigning your dessert menu to reflect seasonal tastes and trends.

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