Three pies
With pie sales traditionally stacked toward the back-end of the year, bakers are finding ways to spark sales during other months.

KANSAS CITY — Nothing seems capable of slowing down dessert sales. With the current atmosphere of health-and-wellness pushing the food industry, it would seem a safe assumption that desserts would be falling out of favor with consumers. The numbers, however, suggest otherwise. According to data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, dollar sales for the pie and cake categories for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 7 saw 15.5% and 7.4% growth, respectively, from a year ago.

According to Mintel, Chicago, total retail sales of prepared cakes and pies reached an estimated $11.6 billion in 2015, and the research firm expects this growth to continue. During the recession, these dessert categories could not be kept down because they positioned themselves as affordable indulgences. With health-and-­wellness concerns threatening sales, bakeries shifted gears and ingredients to offer cleaner labels and high-quality fruit and chocolate. After all, despite people watching their waist lines and reading nutrition labels for their snacks and breads, life goes on and still needs to be celebrated. And what better way to celebrate life’s triumphs than with dessert — pie in particular?

“Pies have always been event-oriented or holiday-­oriented where people are buying them for a specific purpose to go to a specific event or family gathering,” said Mark Van Iwaarden, director of marketing for Denver-based Legendary Baking.

“In terms of sales for the pie industry, if you look at the numbers, it’s pretty consistent year-round, and at the holidays it jumps up.”

Pie chart
Pie and cake sales continue to grow.

Now pie bakers are latching onto this link between pies and holidays to create opportunities for sales growth throughout the calendar. Through larger sizes and new flavors, pies can keep consumers celebrating all year round.

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While the rest of the dessert world may be shrinking down to make money — mini cupcakes, mini sandwich cookies, bite-sized brownies — pie bakers are seeing an opportunity in supersizing their products. The nature of pies to be an event- or holiday-oriented dessert means they often need to feed many people. A 12-in. pie in lieu of a traditional 8- or 9-in. pie can grab consumers’ ­attention as they look for the perfect treat to share with a large gathering of family and friends.

“As you get toward the end of the year, a lot of retailers will bring in the larger sizes to supplement their everyday offerings,” said Mark Grandinetti, president of Rocky Mountain Pies, Salt Lake City. To meet this need, Rocky Mountain Pies offers its Four Seasons fruit pie in a 12-in. format. The larger pie features equal sections of Apple, Cherry, Peach and Berry pies under a lattice pie crust. Despite being a fruit pie, this particular product has seen success during the end-of-the-year holidays.

“Obviously, you’re going to buy a pumpkin pie, and you’re buying for all these other people, and you may not know what they like,” Mr. Grandinetti said. “So you buy a Four Seasons, and you have four pies in one 12-in. pie.”

Because these larger sizes are often bought for entertaining and sharing purposes, they can see the most success with more traditional flavors. “People buy pies with the intention to share,” Mr. Van Iwaarden said. “Flavor-wise, the big pies tend to skew to the standard normal flavors. The really inventive flavors, people shy away from those because they are looking for crowd pleasers that appeal to the masses.”