Drive Traffic with Summer Dessert LTOs

Seasonality is a big draw for consumers considering limited time offers, with 41% of consumers ordering LTOs that are seasonal, according to Datassential research.

Desserts, which consumers expect will change in tandem with the seasons, can be an ideal candidate for an LTO item. If you’re considering adding one or more seasonally inspired limited-time desserts this summer, including the following elements can help maximize your sweet LTO’s impact.

Cutting-Edge Components

Desserts are a great place to innovate as baking ingredients and fresh fruits aren’t as impacted by supply chain issues compared to other categories, according to Datassential analyst Mark Brandau.

“Relative to other places where you can put your menu development dollars, desserts might be a good place to get a little bit more bang for your buck right now,” he says. “That might drive some experimentation around desserts.”

Fruity summer ingredients—such as strawberry, banana, coconut and lemon, which are among the top 10 dessert flavors seen most often on menus—can be popular LTO additions. Other off-the-beaten-path produce options, such as pomegranate, melon, basil and black cherry, which ingredients provider Kerry identified as some of the fastest-growing flavors in 2021, may also make for a buzzworthy LTO.

Maeve Webster, president of foodservice menu consulting firm Menu Matters, predicts both domestic and international varieties of citrus will be a big influence this year, and says global tastes—one of the top five culinary trends the National Restaurant Association predicts we’ll see this year—may increasingly appear in sweet items. 

“Seeds are going to be very influential across the menu, including desserts,” Webster says. “We'll also see, as international cuisine influences bounce back, flavors and formats from those cuisines start influencing desserts.”

Iconic Inclusions

52% of consumers have a hunger for classic desserts, such as s’mores or birthday cake, which restaurants may be able to reinvent as an LTO.

This craving for comfort and nostalgia translates to brands that are familiar to consumers as well. Brand mentions, in fact, have been included in more than a third (37%) of best-in-class LTOs.

Some of the top-performing desserts in Datassential’s SCORES database, which lists consumer ratings for new major chain restaurant menu items and LTOs, involve branded cookies or candies such as SNICKERS®, according to Brandau. 

“Typically, summer is when we see a lot of LTOs and new menu items that are branded and made with different manufacturer partners,” he says. “That's another way to get your marketing dollars to stretch a little bit farther, if you can either work with some of these partners to develop new desserts or at least draft on their name recognition.”

While some may be made on site, others, such as the TWIX® Brownie Little Caesars launched in early February, are ready to serve.

Convenient, Clever Presentation

As restaurants start to experience post-pandemic recovery, dessert presents a strategic opportunity to showcase menu innovation, according to Webster.

“As we, hopefully, are moving out of the pandemic, we'll see operators refocus on driving desserts through innovation,” she says. “Handheld formats work well during the summer; and we'll see some interesting takes on sweet versions of charcuterie boards.”

Because dessert beverages—consumers’ favorite type of LTO drink—also offer that handheld portability, further innovation may occur with milkshakes, Brandau says—beyond just the over-the-top versions we’ve seen in recent years.

“Milkshakes are really, really versatile,” he says. “And it's not just super indulgent shakes; we've seen brands do really well with fresh fruit—either fresh fruit concretes, or fresh fruit milkshakes.”

This Strawberry Sugar Cookie Concrete with M&M’S® Red, White and Blue Chocolate Candies recipe is a perfect example of combining summer flavors in a handheld format. 

Filled items are also popping up more often in the dessert and snack space, Brandau says.

“If you want a way to combine some complementary flavors and textures, it's a really good way to do it,” he says. 

Discover this recipe for Cookie Butter–Stuffed Cookies Made with SNICKERS® and DOVE® for inspiration.

A Less Decadent Option

Dietary preferences can play a part in dessert demand—before, during and after summer.  

While in recent years, the words vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free have experienced triple-digit growth on limited-service restaurant dessert menus, some diners may be fine with dairy but want better-for-you desserts that are less caloric or indulgent.

“People's behavior shifts during the summer to get more focused on being active [and] out-and-about,” Webster says. “With the hotter weather, portion sizes can be a bit smaller or lighter in design.”

Even at a reduced size, smaller-scale beverages and shot-sized desserts can potentially be profitable, according to Brandau.

“We see miniature shakes and miniature concretes perform just as well as the oversized ones or the crazy topping ones,” he says.

By incorporating—and potentially combining— any of these trends into a summer dessert, you’ll motivate consumers to make sure they don’t miss out on your LTO.

Craving more trend and menu information? Sign up today for Mars Foodservices’ bimonthly e-newsletter.