Mini peach pie
Individual portions of pies and cakes are contributing to better sales in today's market.

KANSAS CITY — As lifestyles speed up and the traditional three-meals-a-day model fades, portion control continues to stake its claim in the baking and snack industries not only because of the perceived healthy attributes but also because of what it lends to portability.

In traditional retail locations, smaller portions are continuing to rise in popularity as they lend themselves more to convenience. According to Euromonitor International, 1- to 3-oz packages of savory snacks reached almost 40% of total unit sales in the U.S. by package size in 2016. Meanwhile, 4- to 6-oz packages made up about 16% of unit sales, 7- to 9-oz packages made up 19%, and larger packages continued to decline during the past five years and now make up less than 15% of total unit sales.

Desserts, staple foods and traditional snacks are finding new ways to reach consumers by making indulgences and meal replacements convenient, portable and available as snack options any time of the day.

Morning, noon or night

In today’s market, no meal or snack is limited to its traditional time of day. Dessert is no exception. No longer are people only eating cake and ice cream after a sit-down dinner. Desserts have long been looked at as an after-dinner treat, but that is changing, said Lauren Lopez, director of marketing of fully finished desserts for Buffalo, N.Y.-based Rich Products.

Sweet Middles creme pies
Bite-size cakes like Rich Products' Sweet Middles may limit calorie count per serving while providing quality indulgence.

“We realized that we needed to contemporize what desserts are, and they’re really sweet indulgences that consumers can eat anytime throughout the day,” Ms. Lopez said. “Consumers are increasingly looking for something that’s more portion-oriented.”

Thirty-one per cent of consumers said individual portion sizes would influence them to purchase more fresh cakes and pies, according to Mintel’s May 2016 “Prepared Cakes and Pies, U.S.” report. For frozen and refrigerated cakes and pies, that number is 25%. 

Ms. Lopez described portion-controlled desserts as “permissible indulgences” — consumers can feel good after eating one mini portion vs. an entire cake. Emphasis on portion-controlled desserts has increasingly become popular over the past five years, according to Ms. Lopez, and the emphasis at Rich Products has been on providing on-the-go treats that don’t sacrifice quality.

“It’s taking that big dessert and shrinking it down into this mini size,” said Krista Corigliano, senior marketing manager of desserts for Rich Products. “It’s still going to taste just as great; it’s going to satisfy your indulgence, your sweet tooth, just as much as the big portion; it’s just going to be smaller and easier to grab and go.”

Sweet Middles carrot cake creme pies
Sweet indulgences can be made bite-size or handheld to appeal to portion-control-minded consumers.

Rich Products offers a variety of desserts in “bite” form, meaning a cake or brownie can be consumed in two bites or less. For example, the company’s Sweet Middles, sold in six- and 12-packs, are bite-size cookie sandwiches. They are peanut- and tree nut-free and do not contain artificial colors, artificial flavors or high fructose corn syrup. Flavors include Pumpkin Spice, Cinnamon Roll, Oatmeal Raisin Crisp, Crème Brulee, Chocolate Soufflé and Carrot Cake.

Just Desserts created the “no regrets” initiative, which includes a growing line of ­single-serve bites that come in several varieties including Brownie, Blondie, Muffin, and its new Just Delights Sprouted Grain and Coffee Cake Bites. Michael Mendes, chief executive officer and managing partner of the San Francisco-based company, said that in addition to providing portion and calorie control, the snackable bites allow the business to broaden its demographic base by attracting younger, grab-and-go consumers and smaller families. The bites also serve as an alternative to its full-sized cakes, which traditionally skew toward a more mature, affluent audience.

“Bites were attractive because we could deliver good value to consumers on a premium product that they could take one or two bites and get that calorie-per-bite rate between 60 and 100,” Mr. Mendes said. “At the end of an evening, they can feel satiated. They ate a premium snack and can feel that they’ve done something within a healthy, maintenance diet.”

Just Delights Sprouted Grain Bites
Just Desserts recently launched Just Delights Sprouted Grain Bites.

Junior’s Cheesecakes & Desserts has been serving its “Little Fella” cheesecakes in its New York restaurant locations for more than 25 years.

“They were never a huge focal point in the restaurants, and then about five years ago we started doing a lot of individual portions with QVC TV where we offer a variety pack, 18 individual 2-oz or 4-oz portions, and the customers love them,” said Jason Schwartz, general manager of the Burlington, N.J.-based company.

In 2016, Junior's started selling Little Fellas to retail and supermarket chains.

“I think people like to buy what they’re going to consume and be done with it,” Mr. Schwartz said. “People don’t want to buy a bigger cake when it’s only for themselves and maybe a spouse, and they don’t want to waste the rest.”

Little Fellas mini cheesecakes, Junior's
Individual portions and packaging make traditional desserts like cheesecake portable.

The smaller portions also allowed Junior’s to explore new flavors to bring in new customers. Rich McKenzie, national sales manager, said portion control lends itself to creating excitement about a brand. People can try new flavors in a smaller format, decide if they like them, then come back for more. Mr. McKenzie said the company saw this at stop-and-shop locations where people came in, bought Little Fellas — two for $7 — tried those at home and came back to buy the 6-in. cheesecakes.

“It’s like a taster before they commit to buying a bigger cake,” Mr. Schwartz said.

New varieties such as Carrot Cake, Red Velvet, Devil’s Food, Apple Crumb, Tiramisu, Strawberry Swirl, Pumpkin, Chocolate Dream, Lemon and Blueberry Swirl do especially well with younger generations, Mr. Schwartz said. By packaging them in a clear plastic container that features a small base and a removable top, the cheesecakes may even be eaten on-the-go.

Legendary Baking is seeing a trend toward unique flavors, and by making its traditional pies in 6-in. varieties, it can better explore that market, the Denver-based company said. For example, the company has developed a spicy cherry pie based on the popular combination of sweet and heat.

“Generally when people are buying pie, they’re buying that pie for a group,” said Mark Van Iwaarden, director of marketing. “They’re buying it for an event or for their family. So in that sense, you sort of have to buy something that’s going to appeal to all. And one of the things that portion control — or smaller sizes in general — allows, is to maybe step out of that norm, if you will, of flavor and try something that’s maybe a little different, a little out there.”

Opportunities seem endless for dessert companies willing to think outside the box.

“I think portion control has put pie more into a snack-type scenario, whereas in the past that wasn’t necessarily the case,” Mr. Van Iwaarden said.