Small desserts allow operators to offer bite-size indulgence.
Photo credit: Menu Inspirations


Before she starred in the reality TV show “The Simple Life” many people probably thought Paris Hilton was a hotel in France. Similarly, before popping up on menus in recent years, words like “ciabatta” and “focaccia” most likely were not part of the average American consumer’s lexicon.

Today, for better or worse (depending on how you feel about Miss Hilton), things have changed quite a bit.

Members of the American Culinary Association named ciabatta and focaccia “hot” food items in the National Restaurant Association (NRA) 2007 Chef Survey. In fact, premium breads are increasing in popularity across the board.

“Sandwiches made with premium breads and proteins are commanding menu prices of $5.49 and higher,” says Alicia Staker, Sara Lee Foodservice senior brand manager. The Downers Grove, Ill.-based company has extended its premium bread offerings with a new croissant line. Twister Croissant Rolls are a thaw-and-serve line with three distinct flavors: Original, Maple & Brown Sugar and Cheese Twister. All roll varieties are 2.3 oz., made from swirled, laminated croissant dough, pre-sliced and trans-fat free.

Consumers also are demanding healthier options, notes David Drake, director of bakery operations at Wenner Bread Products, Bayport, N.Y.

“As consumers become more educated on the benefits of healthy and wholesome foods, Wenner has responded with [our] new Hearty & Healthy Grains line of white, wheat and dark whole grains,” he says.

Launched earlier this year, Wenner’s Hearty & Healthy Grains line includes whole-grain, trans fat free Kaiser rolls, sub rolls and Italian breads. According to The Wheat Foods Council, a Parker, Colo.-based industry wide partnership that promotes the consumption of wheat, studies show eating more whole grains may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The Whole Grains Council, Boston, identified the following chain restaurants that use whole grain breads in their offerings: Atlanta Bread, Bruegger’s Bagels, Hobee’s, Jersey Mike’s and McDonald’s.

Whole grain breads also ranked high (third) on NRA’s Chef Survey and have moved deeper into the sweeter side of foodservice bakery.

Sara Lee also offers a Wholesome Indulgences line of whole grain and fiber-rich muffins that are “an indulgent way to fit into your patrons’ healthier lifestyles,” the company says. Varieties include Blueberry, Banana Nut, Apple Cranberry and Reduced Fat Blueberry.

All this action in whole grains doesn’t mean that foodservice operators aren’t providing consumers with plenty of indulgence. In fact, bite-size desserts topped the list of 194 “hot” food items in the NRA Chef Survey.

Chicago-based Menu Inspirations reports that desserts account for approximately 7 percent of full-service restaurant revenues, adding up to $11 billion each year. One of Menu Inspirations’ newest offerings, Tufflettes, are thaw-and-serve, bite-sized, chocolate enrobed truffles in varieties such as Chocolate Cheesecake and Chocolate Brownie.

Also offering bite-size indulgence is McCain Foods USA, Lisle, Ill., with its Sweet Classics line of mini truffles. Newest varieties are Breaded Apple Crumb Cake Bites, yellow cake topped with apples and cinnamon-caramel sauce enrobed in oatmeal breading and Chocolate Crème Truffle Bites, chocolate cake filled with vanilla crème and topped with light espresso coating.

As Hilton would say, “That’s hot!”