KANSAS CITY — The sweet goods category is often the perfect place for grain-based foods manufacturers to introduce seasonal items. With a few changes to icings or fillings a product can take on a new look, feel and taste that appeal to consumers.

It is this seemingly endless array of new products that keeps the sweet goods category churning out year-over-year dollar and unit sales gains.

In the 52 weeks ended Nov. 4, dollar sales in the bakery snacks segment totaled $3,404,768,664, up 0.1% from the same period a year ago, while unit sales increased 1.3% to 1,836,253,400, according to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm.

McKee Foods Corp., Collegedale, Tenn., sustained a 0.8% decline in dollar sales during the period to $829,582,980. The decline was not from lack of innovation, though.

In late October, the company put a seasonal spin on Drake’s Devil Dogs snack cakes in a new limited-time offering. Drake’s Mint Creme Devil Dogs feature a pair of devil’s food cakes with a mint creme filling.

Top bakery snacks vendors chart“We asked Devil Dogs fans to create their own Devil Dogs, and Mint Creme was the top flavor suggestion,” said Chip Stenberg, Drake’s associate brand manager.

The Drake’s brand also was at the center of another major move at McKee during 2018. The company, which has owned the Drake’s brand since 2013, in the late summer said Drake’s Coffee Cakes would return to store shelves. The Coffee Cakes had been discontinued in the fall of 2017.

Coffee Cakes are made with a cinnamon streusel topping and were first introduced in 1930. McKee acquired the Drake’s brand from Hostess Brands L.L.C. after that company declared bankruptcy in 2012.

McKee Foods also hopped on the “unicorn” trend with the debut of Little Debbie Unicorn Cakes, which are “sparkling strawberry” snack cakes.

Innovation will continue to be a growth catalyst for Kansas City-based Hostess Brands, L.L.C., Andrew P. Callahan, president and chief executive officer, said during a Nov. 7 conference call with analysts.

Hostess Totally Nutty peanut butter wafer bars“We are focused on three key areas: Innovating our core, premium innovation and innovation into adjacencies,” Mr. Callahan said. “Our core innovation emphasizes new flavors of iconic products to leverage the brand’s power and expand the core. We believe Hostess is highly profitable for our customers supported by our brand strength and large lists on display. We are also focusing our energy on premium innovation in an effort to attract new consumers at higher price points like we have done with our Bakery Petites premium snacking platform.

“We are excited to launch two new flavors of our Cake Delights, strawberry and caramel, in the fourth quarter as well as expand distribution of Bakery Petites into the club and dollar channels as we continue to build out this platform. Lastly, we are working to expand the Hostess brand to new consumer segments to drive incremental growth like we are doing with Hostess Totally Nutty peanut butter wafer bars and our new Hostess Danish, Jumbo Donettes and other new products.”

Earlier in 2018, Hostess relaunched its Dolly Madison brand for distribution in the vending and micro market channel.

Hostess said the brand, which was introduced in 1937, will include an expanded lineup of sweet goods, including Donut Gems in powdered, frosted, crunch and glazed varieties; Zingers in Iced Devil’s Food and Iced Vanilla varieties; Dolly Madison Chocolate Cremes; Dolly Madison Golden Creme Cakes; Dolly Madison Chocolate Cupcakes; and Dolly Madison Coffee Cakes.

Hostess’s efforts helped key a 2.8% increase in bakery snacks dollar sales to $690,361,564 in the 52 weeks ended Nov. 4, according to I.R.I.

Bakery snacks have encountered a rough patch at Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga. In the 52 weeks ended Nov. 4, dollar sales totaled $278,513,434, down 5.2% from the same period a year ago.

Tastykake seasonal productsIn a Nov. 8 conference call with analysts, Allen L. Shiver, president and c.e.o., said Flowers continues to work on unlocking the profitability and growth of its cake business.

“We are going back to the basics and taking actions to right-size this business,” he said. “This year, the focus has been on product assortment, pricing and quality. To be sure, we are offering items with clear consumer feel. With this work as the foundation, our plan is to build new innovation and packaging platforms starting next year.”

Part of that product assortment included the launch of several Tastykake-branded items to coincide with spring. The limited-time offerings included Lemon Mini Donuts featuring a lemon-flavored cake donut dusted with a powdered sugar coating, Peach Sweet Rolls featuring a sweet roll with peach filling topped with creamy icing, and Strawberries and Creme Glazed Pies featuring a glazed pie crust and a strawberries and creme flavored pie.

Flowers also was faced with a food safety scare during the summer. On July 18, the company issued a voluntary recall on Swiss Rolls sold under the brand names Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, Baker’s Treat, Market Square and Great Value due to the potential presence of Salmonella.

Flowers said the ingredient recall was initiated by a third-party whey powder manufacturer and supplier.