Over the last few years the chilled desserts sector has seen many product introductions, including both new products and line extensions. But as more consumers watch their weight, launch activity has become split between two extremes: indulgent, high-end desserts and guilt-free, 'healthier' treats, as Mintel reports.

The chilled desserts category delicately balances activity between ultra-indulgent, full-fat items with "guiltless" items that feature reduced fat and calorie content. In general, producers developed products with universal appeal while also launching specialised products intended to target young consumers with playful flavours and colours. Private label manufacturers are adding to the competitive atmosphere by introducing sophisticated varieties that include rich chocolate and fruit sauces or other "high-end" ingredients such as Chardonnay.

The largest segment within the dessert & ice cream category, take home ice cream, witnessed 2,274 product launches, while the frozen novelty and impulse ice cream subcategory accounted for 25% of all launch activity worldwide. The chilled desserts subcategory posted 1,661 product introductions, which accounts for 20% of the 8,135 dessert & ice cream products introduced between 2001 and the first half of 2003. In addition, the number of product launches was expected to increase 10% by the end of 2003.

Launch activity primarily consisted of new products; however, variety and range extension launches took the lead for the first time in the first half of 2003. Many producers expanded established brands, including Kraft Foods, which introduced new flavours under its X-Treme Jell-O Gel Sticks line in the US (Cotton Candy, and "Mystery" Flavour" varieties) and also introduced new flavours under its Jell-O Smoothie Snacks.

The European region dominated the chilled desserts subcategory with 1,028 product introductions (62% of the total), and based on data from the first half of 2003, product activity was expected to increase 25% by the end of the year. Asia Pacific follows at a distant second with 329 launches over the period covered. However, activity was expected to decline 37% before the end of 2003. Introductions are low in North America, reflecting the fact that chilled food distribution is less developed in the region.

Product trends

Indulgence
Although many consumers moderately monitor the fat and calorie content of food items, occasional treats are often unavoidable. In general, desserts of every kind are considered "indulgent". However a few products stand out by including high quality ingredients and descriptive labels with adjectives such as "decadent," "heavenly," or "irresistible".

Although many high-end producers offer a wide selection of products with sophisticated and exotic ingredients, retailers are remaining competitive by developing similar private label varieties. In the UK, private label items from Marks & Spencer, Safeway, Sainsbury's, Asda and Tesco carry a number of extraordinary product descriptions. For example, Marks & Spencer recently introduced its Zabaglione Dessert with two chunky apricot compotes, boudoir sponge fingers soaked in Marsala wine, and a whipped Marsala custard. The company also introduced a Cherry & Nougat Royale under the Café Culture label, which consists of "sweet, juicy, whole Greek cherries in a tart griotte cherry sauce, layered with Victoria sponge with a topping of Greek style yoghurt, whipped cream and nutty Montelimar nougat". Many products rival the dessert selection of a prestigious restaurant, including Sainsbury's Tiramisu Trifle, described as a "rich indulgent trifle made from mascarpone cheese, marsala wine and coffee".


Guilt-free
The chilled desserts market is divided between two categories - "healthy" and "indulgent". Many products on the healthy front are positioned as guilt-free pleasures, a method of effectively satiating a sweet tooth without worry. In general, the main area of interest for consumers is the removal of fat and calories, rather than fortification or enhancement. There is potential to develop fortified chilled desserts that follow in the footsteps of the yoghurt market (where products are frequently fortified with added vitamins and minerals). However, it is important to note that chilled desserts are positioned as treats, so consumers may not perceive fortified desserts to be an effective method of increasing the nutritional quality of their diet. Therefore producers often include popular, well known ingredients such as soy or fibre rather than vitamins and minerals to attract health conscious consumers.

In other regions dietary trends led to the emergence of new chilled desserts with little to no sugar content, which often cater to slimmers and diabetics. A few products simply carry a natural positioning, created without adding sugar to enhance natural sweetness, while other products add other "good-for-you" ingredients such as vitamin C.

Products for children
It is not surprising that children enjoy chilled desserts. However, many fickle youngsters are extremely finicky about taste and texture. Many products incorporate playful toys or provide a special compartment with fruity sauces and candy pieces to eat alone or to mix into the dessert itself. Products vary considerably across regions; however, many commonalties exist with chocolate, vanilla, and fruity flavours abounding worldwide. Anticipating parental concern over nutrition, producers developed new products with special fortification to address the unique dietary needs of young consumers.

Snacking
A snacking culture continues unbounded in the developed world, with many a busy consumer looking for a quick eating solution, often "on-the-go". Within the chilled desserts market, this snacking development has led to a few novel formats, mainly hand-held and dipping lines. However, there is room for innovation within chilled "on-the-go" treats, although they will never be as convenient as an ambient snack due to storage issues.

While many consumers are in need of a bite between meals, a snack product must also serve as an entire meal, which explains the introduction of products such as the mini meal range of vanilla rice puddings from Arla Foods in Sweden. The raspberry & apple, cherry, and peach, pineapple & passion fruit varieties include a separate serving of fruit jam and a plastic spoon for added convenience.

Ingredient and flavour trends
The chilled desserts category is inundated with traditional favourites such as chocolate and vanilla. However, the occasional "oddity" encourages other producers to experiment with new flavour combinations. In North America, Europe, and Middle East & Africa, chocolate is a common flavour. However, peach and strawberry are encountered more frequently in Asia Pacific and South America. In the North American region, banana flavoured desserts are common, with products such as Kraft Foods' Strawberry Banana Jell-O Smoothie Pudding variety in the US. In Europe raspberry flavours are found, evident from the introduction of Nestlé's raspberry mousse dessert under the Mousse de Viennois label in France.

To heighten a product's overall image of quality and uniqueness, the premium market is characterised by a number of exotic flavours and ingredients. Therefore, future product development will undoubtedly follow the flavour trends set by the high-end product segment.

As mentioned earlier, increased consumer knowledge surrounding the health benefits of soy influenced new product development in a few regions. In addition, soy-based products are becoming a popular substitute for many lactose intolerant consumers searching to capture the essence of a dairy product without future consequence.

Packaging
There has been no real packaging "innovation" within the chilled desserts market, since the emergence of split pots. For pot desserts (the most active sector within chilled desserts as a whole), plastic pots (individual or joined) dominate, with glass or ceramic pots adding a classier touch. Board boxes with foil trays are highly used within the "sharing" sector, as are cartons for custard desserts. Plastic tube packaging could also offer future growth (for example, Kraft Foods X-Treme Jell-O Gel Sticks in the US, as mentioned earlier).

Forecast/predictions

Mintel expects the private label sector to encourage mid-tier and premium label producers to enhance new formulas to remain competitive.

Products for children will focus on portability, offering durable packages that provide parents a mess-free snack option.

Guilt-free varieties will continue to include low fat options; however, Mintel expects future developments to include more added value ingredients such as soy that offer nutritional benefits.