The shelf-stable desserts sector is facing increasing competition from other sweets, such as cakes and chilled or frozen desserts. The sector has become increasingly neglected by the major food companies, but some suppliers are fighting back with innovative new products, as Mintel reports.

The shelf-stable desserts sector is increasingly coming under pressure from other fresher dessert alternatives like chilled desserts, as well as snacks and cakes. As large companies focus their attention on more profitable, faster-developing sectors, the shelf-stable desserts market is receiving less attention, less investment and less promotional support than ever before. However, suppliers in this market are fighting back with added value products, indulgent desserts and snack-oriented convenience lines.

Many products are targeted at children, especially as lunchbox items or as a sweet treat, but there are also some developments in more sophisticated products aimed at adults.

Shelf-stable desserts are defined as those desserts that are stored at room temperature and therefore do not require refrigeration. Examples of products falling within the scope of this sector include canned milk-based desserts such as rice pudding, custard and semolina, canned puddings such as sponge puddings, packet desserts such as jelly in powder form and instant desserts, and RTE (ready-to-eat) desserts such as rice pudding, custard and jellies.

Frozen and chilled desserts are excluded from this analysis.

Launch activity

Dessert & ice cream introductions by sub-category
2001
2002
2003
Total
Chilled desserts
615
689
804
2,108
Dessert toppings
182
152
214
548
Frozen novelties/impulse ice cream
639
855
999
2,493
Other frozen desserts
289
288
302
879
Shelf-stable desserts
327
411
590
1,328
Take-home ice cream
834
871
921
2,626
Total
2,886
3,226
3,830
9,982

The desserts & ice cream category is dominated by three segments: Take-home ice cream accounts for 26% of introductions in the period of review, frozen novelties/impulse ice cream for 25% of introductions, and chilled desserts for 21%. All three continue to see steady growth in new product numbers. The shelf-stable desserts sub-category has seen comparatively little activity, accounting for just 13% of all introductions in the period 2001-2003. Nevertheless, the segment has seen an impressive 43% increase in new products in 2003, to reach nearly 600 new items in the last year. This is largely due to GNPD coverage improvements in the Latin American region, and strong NPD in Europe.

Shelf-stable desserts introductions by launch type
2001
2002
2003
Total
New product
192
235
277
704
New variety/range extension
135
176
313
624
Total
327
411
590
1,328

In terms of new product launches versus new variety/range extensions, it appears that there was an even 60:40 split in favour of new products in 2001 and 2002. However, the percentage of new variety/range extensions grew massively in 2003, and now accounts for 53% of all introductions.

Product launches by region/country

Shelf-stable dessert introductions by region
2001
2002
2003
Total
Asia Pacific
78
141
150
369
Europe
79
89
122
290
Latin America
38
41
170
249
Middle East & Africa
19
22
36
77
North America
113
118
112
343
Total
327
411
590
1,328

The Asia Pacific and North American markets are the most active regions, each accounting for just over a quarter of the total launch activity within the category in the period under review. Europe follows, with 22% of total introductions in the period covered, while Latin America has seen a huge increase in 2003, accounting for 29% of all launches in that year alone.

Product trends

Tradition & indulgence
Tradition is an important driver in the shelf-stable desserts market. Ambient desserts enjoy strong loyalty among families and older consumers, while some types of dessert, such as jelly and rice pudding, are more likely to be eaten as a treat, on special occasions or as part of a formal family meal.

The desire for indulgence is a key factor in the consumption of shelf-stable desserts, even though their indulgence value has not been promoted nearly as aggressively as that of chilled, RTE desserts. To communicate the indulgence aspect, the shelf-stable desserts market has relied largely on the packaging, using messages that convey the idea of tradition and personal pleasure. Some examples include:

  • Fowlers Vacola's Classic Plum Puddings in Australia, four individual-serve plum puddings with a complementary brandy butter sauce. Flashed on pack is the tagline "Premium quality since 1915", which further underlines the traditional aspect of the pudding.
  • Old Fashioned Foods' Aunt Betty's Traditional Bread & Butter Pudding in New Zealand.
  • Mills & Ware's Fruit Pudding, in Australia, flashed on-pack as "Perfect gourmet dessert".

Health positioning
Although many shelf-stable desserts are sold on an overt indulgence platform, some activity has been recorded for products with health claims. Many products are now available in low-calorie/low sugar varieties, but it is also becoming more common to see desserts enriched with vitamins and minerals, important for health-conscious consumers and in particular for parents with young children. Recent launches include:

  • In Brazil, Vepê introduced Pão de Açucar Good Light, flavoured gelatine that has 90% fewer calories than standard flavoured gelatine and is fat-free.
  • Bromor Foods' Moir's Low-Cal jelly is available in South Africa. The low calorie jelly (with at least 40% fewer kilojoules than regular jelly) is endorsed by Weigh-Less health & slimming clubs and can be used in the Weight Watchers programme.
  • Odenwald-Konserven's Natreen branded fruit compotes are claimed to be the first low calorie compotes on the German market, and are available in a variety of flavours including apricot, rhubarb, peach, and plum.
  • In Spain, United Biscuits introduced Royal Gelatina con Vitaminas A+C+E, a jelly enriched with vitamins A, C and E, which is claimed to be ideal for children and for pregnant and breast-feeding women.
  • New in Colombia is Levapan's Gelatina Gel'hada jelly mix, available in a variety of flavours and fortified with vitamin C. It retails with children's Space Cards collector cards.

Some products are not fortified, but emphasise the natural goodness of the ingredients used. In France for example, Gayelord Hauser introduced Fruitalité Energie au Quotidien fruit compote desserts. These comprise blends of fruit with nuts or wheat germ, and are said to be a good source of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

In Japan it is also more common to see shelf-stable products that feature more sophisticated levels of fortification to target health-conscious adults. For example:

  • Asahi Food & Healthcare introduced C's Case, a grapefruit jelly dessert formulated with vitamin C (equal to 50 lemons), B6 and E.
  • Hagoromo Foods launched Low Sweet Nata De Coco dessert, which is formulated with fish-derived collagen, vitamin C and lotus germ extract to make the skin supple.

Organic desserts
There has been little activity to date in shelf-stable desserts in terms of organic products, with just a handful of introductions, mostly from small, specialist manufacturers. In Europe in particular, many are also flagged as vegetarian.

Convenience & the snacking culture
Shelf-stable desserts have a major convenience-related advantage over other types of product - they do not need refrigeration and have a long shelf life, which eliminates the need for daily shopping. RTE desserts are ready for immediate consumption while those that need preparation can now be quickly cooked in a microwave oven to reduce time. In Australia, for example, Mills & Ware's self-saucing shelf-stable pudding range requires just one and a half minutes in the microwave and is described as a "perfect gourmet dessert", delicious either hot or cold.

Busier lifestyles have meant packaging is of greater importance as food often needs to be sold in individual portions and to be suitable for "on the go" consumption. Manufacturers of shelf-stable desserts have responded to the snacking trend by developing desserts in a ready-to-eat format for immediate consumption. Desserts in single-portion plastic pots make a convenient component for a lunchbox, although nowadays even more practical formats are available. Recent examples include:

  • In the USA, Kraft Foods has extended the Handi-Snacks range with single-serve rice puddings that do not need refrigeration, hence can be carried anywhere.
  • In Colombia, Kraft Foods' Royal Turbolín gelatine snack is a convenient, vitamin-fortified snack in a single-serve plastic tube.
  • Golden Circle's Splurtz Fruit Purée in Australia is designed for consumption as a snack at lunch and break-time. It is available in a variety of flavours (Fruit Salad; Apple & Strawberry; Orchard Fruits; Apple) and requires no spoon since it is packaged in "rip & squeeze" easy-open, pyramid-shaped containers.
  • Hershey's Portable Pudding! is available in a range of flavours, including vanilla, and is conveniently packaged in squeezable tubes. It is available in the USA and Canada.

Flavours/ingredients
There is a huge array of flavours and ingredients used in this very fragmented market. Within the jelly powder sector, traditional flavours include all kinds of fruit and even some confectionery flavours, while chocolate, caramel and vanilla are very popular in the RTE and milk-based dessert market.

Packaging
There is limited innovation regarding packaging in this sub-category. Flexible sachets and board cartons are the most used packaging for instant shelf-stable desserts, while RTE desserts are more commonly packaged in plastic tubs and more recently in aseptic cartons. Metal cans remain popular for some shelf-stable desserts such as ready-made, milk based puddings (rice pudding, semolina and custard).

We have also seen some limited packaging novelties focusing on improving convenience. These include Madmeals' MadSnax apple sauce pouches, available in the USA, which are on-the-go, "spoon-free" snack foods packaged in a flexible pouch with a resealable cap, making the dessert perfect for lunches, picnics and travel.

Product launches by company/brand
On a global level, important players in this market include Kraft (with brands such as Jell-O and Handi-Snacks) and Unilever (with a host of brands including Alsa, Mondamin, Knorr and Ambrosia). Nestlé also has several brands in this market, including Rowntree's (jelly), Maggi (semolina puddings) and Mont Blanc (canned cream desserts).

ConAgra and Cadbury Schweppes are both active in the North American market, the former with brands such as Hershey's (Portable Pudding) and Hunt's (Squeeze 'n Go and Snack Packs), and Cadbury via its Mott's subsidiary (apple sauce). Dr Oetker is especially active in the dessert mixes segment in Europe. Major companies in Japan include House Foods, Hagoromo and Tarami.

Forecast/predictions
If left in its current state, the shelf-stable desserts market will find it more and more difficult to compete with products in the chilled and frozen sector. However, certain steps can be taken to minimise any further decline, and Mintel expects to see developments including a revival of interest in traditional puddings such as custard-based desserts and steamed puddings. More products will emphasise their natural advantages over chilled and frozen lines, with taglines such as "smart enough to eat anywhere" and "no fridge needed".

Convenience will continue to be a strong theme, focusing on no-mess, in-bowl preparation in the microwave, and ready-to-eat presentations. Mintel also forecasts that children's products and snack-oriented lines in particular will focus on novel packaging concepts, especially tubes and pouches.