In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food, Dawn Foods corporate executive chef Melissa Trimmer explains that that this year’s holiday festivities are unlike any before – not quite as austere or restrictive as last year when many people scaled back events and menus – but also not as carefree or grand as pre-pandemic.
As such, she says, consumers are looking for ways to celebrate that are scalable and customizable, and which offer both comfort and a break from the monotony of the past 21 months. At the same time, she notes, many retailers and manufacturers are looking for easy solutions to offset staff and supply shortages so they confidently can meet increased demand.
Dessert boards – and grazing boards more generally – check all of these boxes.
The rise of dessert boards
The rising popularity of dessert boards is a natural extension of the cheese and charcuterie boards that many people enjoyed while eating out before the coronavirus outbreak, according to Trimmer, but she notes they also incorporate some of the biggest trends of the pandemic – illustrating their versatility as a flexible marketing tool to meet consumers’ ever-shifting demands.
For example, Trimmer says, dessert boards tap into consumer desire for indulgence and comfort, which spiked during the early months of the pandemic, but also balance the need for portion-control that came as lockdown orders dragged on and a new normal is established.
“When this trend started, it kind of jumped off another trend that we saw earlier in the pandemic, right. So when the pandemic started, we started seeing people really gravitate towards baking – whether it was doing sourdough at home or whether it was those decorate yourself kits,” Trimmer said.
Dessert boards let consumers continue to play with those trends, and the experiences they offer, but also offer customization as well as luxury, Trimmer said.
For example, Trimmer explains that dessert boards are natural extension of the cheese and charcuterie boards that many people enjoyed while eating out before the coronavirus outbreak, but they also incorporate some of the biggest trends of the pandemic, such as at-home baking, permissible indulgence, and individual-servings for both portion-control and enhanced safety when eating with others.
She noted that many of the indulgent items that consumers want to see on a dessert board are coupled with nostalgia – so offering familiar flavors but in new ways for a comforting experience after a tough nearly two years navigating the pandemic.
“And then of course, we are seeing food as medicine, so we’re definitely seeing that side as well” within dessert boards, playing out through gluten-free and vegan items, Trimmer said. She added that she has ben “playing with a bunch of [Dawn’s] vegan mixes” at the Dawn Foods Innovation Studio as the company explores how it can help partners meet this side of the trend.
‘Unlimited marketing potential’
According to Trimmer the versatility of dessert boards extends beyond the selection of baked goods and confections on display to include their near “unlimited marketing potential.”
But she, said, there are really two main ways that companies can market this trend currently.
The first as a pre-packaged board that still allows for some assembly or experience – such as pairing sugar cookies with pre-made icings and patterns that consumers can combine. The second is allowing consumers to customize their boards by offering a selection of options in store that they can mix and match themselves, she said.
Finally, she noted, dessert boards are a fantastic cross-marketing and branding experience that allows players in adjacent categories to lift each other up and incrementally expand the market.
“If I am going to focus on an apple forward dessert tray, for example, maybe I want to focus or partner with a local cider maker that can sell my items there and I can sell some of their cider with it,” Trimmer suggested.
While making dessert boards with a broad selection of products may sound like a lot of work at a time when many companies are struggling with labor and supply shortages, Trimmer says they don’t have to be.
“Dawn Foods tries to spend an awful lot of time partnering with our customers to try and help them understand the way that they can kind get through [the current labor challenges] in the best way possible. And we have a lot of different marketing materials to help with that,” including a campaign that showcases how one mix from Dawn Foods can be used to make multiple products.
“This really helps with that staffing shortage because, you know, it is one thing to train a baker on ten different products, and its another thing to bring one bag of mix in and show them how to make three or four different products,” she explained.
Trimmer also notes that building a beautiful board isn’t as hard as it may seem as long as retailers, brands and consumers follow a few basic guidelines:
1) If it grows together, it goes together – Trimmer explains that items that are harvested at the same time usually taste good together – making them ideal board pairings.
2) Use a defined but rich color palette, such as reds, oranges, and yellows for fall.
3) Combine shapes and textures in odd numbers, such as three triangular croissants, seven circular cookies and one rectangle loaf for slicing.
4) Fashion the board to be viewed in a clockwise fashion, which is how most people naturally will view a display.
Beyond dessert boards
Looking forward to next year, Trimmer says the flexibility of dessert boards make them a format that easily can accommodate other emerging trends – including the return of chocolate.
“One of the things I’m most excited about 2022 is that chocolate is back in the spotlight,” Trimmer said.
While she acknowledged that chocolate is a perennial favorite, she is excited to see more interesting forms take center stage, such dark chocolate with spices, caramelized white chocolate and unique inclusions.
Beyond chocolate though, boards can easily adapt to and highlight other trends as they emerge – making them a savvy marketing platform to drive trial and continue to build consumer confidence.