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Plant-based trends expand to the dessert menu

Vegan dessert options are growing in retail channels and getting more attention from chefs.

4 min read

Food Retail

Plant-based trends expand to the dessert menu

Mat Hayward/Getty Images

Plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and egg products are taking up more shelf space in mainstream grocers than ever before and most restaurants have realized they need to have more and better meal options for vegetarians and vegans, but the trend doesn’t always extend to dessert.

Vegan desserts can still be hard to find on mainstream restaurant menus and plant-based eaters are often limited to a bowl of berries while the omnivores at the table indulge. But specialty vegan bakeries and bakeries that boast vegan sections aren’t as uncommon as they were a few years ago, and sweet plant-based treats at the retail level abound.

And there are indications that chefs and restaurants are catching on. Forty-seven percent of chefs and restaurateurs surveyed for the Kimpton Culinary + Cocktail Trend Forecast for 2020 singled out vegan desserts as a hot trend for next year and highlighted rich options like vegan chocolate peanut butter cheesecake.

The trend has been growing faster at the retail level, as long-standing brands and startups create new options.

Tofurky, a company known as a pioneer in the plant-based meat business, created one of the first vegan holiday roasts and its name has become synonymous with vegan alternatives to turkey at the holidays. But holidays also mean dessert, and last year the company created a holiday meal kit that included a vegan cheesecake in addition to the roast.

“It got such an amazing reception that people demanded we sell it as a standalone item,” CEO Jaime Athos said in an October interview.

The result: Moocho, a new branded cheesecake that Tofurky has rolled out at retailers in some markets.

Sweets that are vegan, either accidentally or on purpose, are often abundant at the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show, and this year was no exception. Often the new products stem from peoples’ stories of searching for something that fits their needs.

Simple VGN, a line of boxed baking mixes, was born out of new vegan Stacey Sparks-Huff’s craving for the baked goods she and her kids had loved before they decided to leave animal products off their plates. After a lot of trial and error, Sparks-Huff hit on the right combination of leveners and starches and this year began selling her cake, frosting and pancake mixes.

One area where vegan options have exploded in recent years is the ice cream case.

Sales of plant-based ice cream and other vegan frozen treats hit $304 million in 2018, up 26.5% from the previous year, according to a joint report from the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association.

Early entries in the category included So Delicious and Tofutti, and growing demand spurred traditional ice cream companies including Ben & Jerry’s, Haagen-Daz and Breyer’s to add non-dairy options.

Early offerings were typically soy based, followed by products made from coconut milk, rice milk or cashews. Now, oat milk’s rising popularity is spreading to the frozen dessert case.

Popular oat milk brand Oatly debuted an ice cream line with seven flavors at US retailers this year.

Oatly is relatively new in the US but it’s an established brand in Sweden where it has been making oat milk for 25 years. The company only does oat-based products and it worked on the ice cream flavors to create creamy replicas of dairy ice cream flavors without a lot of additives, General Manager Mike Messersmith said in an interview this summer.

“Because we’ve been around for so long, we were able to make a vanilla, chocolate and strawberry in a zero-compromise vegan way,” he said.

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