It is no secret that the foodservice industry has suffered through a bleak economy; but the silver lining of the cloud could actually turn out to be icing.

Industry researcher Technomic, Chicago, says its latest study finds that more consumers have purchased desserts during the past three years. Occupying the smallest portion of most restaurant menus, dessert presents a strong growth opportunity for operators looking to increase sales.

“Dessert is unique, because it not only involves sensory appeal, but also sparks strong emotional drivers,” says Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano. “If someone wants to reward themselves after a bad day, they might splurge on a dessert to feel better; but if they want to celebrate after a good day, they might do the same thing. Motivations for craving dessert run the gamut."

Tristano added that only 1 percent of Technomic's survey respondents said they did not eat dessert, and 70 percent eat dessert at least once a week.

Tristano said Technomic developed its 2010 Dessert Consumer Trend Report to help restaurants, manufacturers and suppliers stay on top of current dessert trends and evolving consumer needs.

Interesting findings include:

-- Fine dining menus are featuring more adventurous flavor combinations. Salty, smoky, savory and herbal flavor combinations can pique the interest of certain consumers.

-- A variety of beverages also satisfy consumer dessert cravings. Coffee, specialty coffee options, and adult beverages can all serve as a dessert for many consumers.
 
-- Pricing can influence dessert purchases, but cost is less of a factor for dessert than for other mealparts. Price is, however, a major consideration for consumers who purchase dessert from a retailer after dining out.