Nov 15, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

Make Way for Millennials, Part 1: Adapting To A Changing Paradigm

Michelle Guiles explores the new shift in paradigm, the inevitable millennial takeover, and what it means to dessert professionals.

E ven if you haven’t braved the lines at Dominique Ansel Bakery in NYC, not to worry. Cronuts™, or at least their fast food counterpart, might be coming to a Jack In the Box® near you. Several media sources announced that Jack In the Box® restaurants have begun testing for their new Cronut-inspired offering, the Croissant Doughnut—news that was met with a unanimous groan from food critics everywhere. Now that fast food has taken a bite out of this trending dessert, entering the market a little over a year since its launch last May, it begs the question: What’s the next craze in gourmet dessert?

Keeping track of the market is an essential part of doing business, and businesses must anticipate such changes in order to position themselves competitively—even a great idea can fall flat if the timing is wrong. I can’t predict what craze will follow the Cronut™, but I can tell you one thing that is inevitably coming next: the millennial takeover. In this issue, we’ll be reviewing consumption and purchasing trends in dessert and postulating how business owners might best serve the growing millennial audience.

Looking for a Dessert Destination

Every decade or so, businesses must anticipate a more pronounced shift in consumerism and prepare to serve a new generation with a new set of consumer values. According to the Culture of Millennials 2011 report from The Hartman Group, Inc. Bellevue, Washington1, millennials are projected to outnumber baby boomers by 2030. Millennials, or Generation Y, are individuals who were born in the years ranging from the late 1970s to the late 1990s. Millennials are a growing consumer demographic that will continue to grow, and smart businesses will take notice and adapt to stay relevant and competitive.

Ted Drewes, St. Louis, MO
Ted Drewes, St. Louis, MO, serves frozen custards & concretes, & attracts large lines of customers year-round as an any-time dessert destination. It has been featured in Alton Brown's "Feasting on Asphalt" series. Photo by & © of Phil Tsai. For more photos, go to

Thanks in large part to this shift, the consumer concept of dessert has evolved from dessert as the finale to a formal dinner to an anytime, any place, whenever-I-feel-the-urge event, according to the 2013 Dessert Consumer Trend Report from Technomic, Inc., Chicago. The same report also shows 40% of consumers eat dessert at least twice a week, a rise of 4% from the 2011 poll’s 36% of consumers. Despite growing numbers of health-conscious consumers and evolving dietary trends and concerns, the outlook is positive for the dessert industry. Dining out for dessert is on the rise, and patrons are including less traditional options in their dessert choices. Additionally, many restaurant diners don’t feel the need to order dessert from the same restaurant after a meal, with about half of diners electing to order dessert at another food service location or simply satisfying their need for something sweet at home. One interpretation of these statistics is that a growing number of consumers are making intentional choices when it comes to purchasing dessert, as opposed to robotically ordering from the dessert menu at the end of dinner. This shift presents an excellent opportunity for dessert-exclusive businesses to reach these diners by making establishments dessert destinations—where businesses offer desserts that are novel and not easily prepared at home.

Show Me Something Unexpected

Though the “novel” aspect of dessert will vary significantly by region (notably consumer bases in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are considered to be more progressive or adventurous), the exotic and the unusual appeal to the foodie demographic. These diners enticed by the avant garde and are responding more and more to menus that read like an episode from Food Network’s series Chopped™, where contestant chefs are given baskets of unlike, obscure, or nontraditional ingredients—for instance, kiwiberries, crushed root beer barrels, and honey barbecue sauce—and must prepare a unified dessert incorporating all ingredients in the final round of the competition. Most establishments won’t need to leap into a menu full of unusual ingredients to appeal to the foodie demographic, but could venture into old-fashioned desserts reinvented to satisfy the millennial need for something unexpected. For example, the holiday standard Sweet Potato Pie could be reinvented by adding a summery, whipped element with real cream and replacing the orange yams with lighter and brighter Japanese sweet potatoes, creating a “Japanese Sweet Potato Cream Pie,” a dessert with a familiar taste profile but with variations in flavor and texture compared to those of the original. Such a dessert would be novel without being a brand departure for more conservative and traditional brands and establishments.

Convenient and Available

Convenience is a factor that has the power to make or break the prospect of a sale, and inconvenience could cost your business a customer. As we’ve covered previously in the Business of Dessert, it is aggravating for many customers to deal with a business with ambiguous pricing, inconsistent or inconvenient hours, long phone hold times, long lines, too many (or too often) out of stock items, among other things. Each issue, we refer to the importance of consumer perspective and keeping business processes simple and clear, and, when it comes to dessert-based businesses, those notes will remain key discussion points with respect to recommendations for improvement. 

According to the Culture of Millennials 2011 report, millennials, though increasingly selective in their choice of dessert, are impulsive eaters who seek instant gratification when the need for sweet strikes. Businesses can capitalize on this need for any-time dessert by keeping convenient hours and offering hassle-free takeout options that cater to a dining out crowd. In the evenings and over the weekend, when most diners aren’t constrained by working hours, more restaurant-goers are looking for after-meal dessert destinations, so it makes sense to evaluate whether your business hours are optimal for your target market. I've passed too many dessert businesses and seen after-dinner crowds peering into darkened windows. In one instance, a boutique was strategically located between two family restaurants, but failed to capture this crowd due to the business's hours of operation, having closed only 30 minutes earlier. 

In addition to keeping hours that meet the needs of the dessert consumer, businesses can also make it a point to offer plenty of smaller-priced products that can be chosen and sold quickly. A positive point of dealing in lower priced products is that customers might be more inclined to buy a sampling of a few small items over a single, larger or full-size dessert. From the customer’s perspective, the experience is customized and has less risk for buyer’s remorse. From the retailer’s perspective, the total purchase value for multiple smaller items will quite often be greater than a customer's purchase of the single, full-size dessert option. A cookie case that allows buyers to select a dozen or half-dozen cookies from an assortment is a perfect example of this concept.

Thankfully, a generation can’t take over the market overnight, but businesses would be amiss to neglect the direction that these millennials are pushing them toward. In coming issues we will expand on these ideas and introduce a new one: the importance of social experience to millennials.


1. Berry, Donna. "Dessert Trends 2014: Sweet, Single and Ready To Please." 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 June 2014. <>

Michelle Guiles is the Managing Editor of and Art Director at TENSHI Advertising. She has been integral in the building of several successful brands over the years and has been responsible for driving those brands into the digital world. Questions? Contact Michelle by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Business of Dessert gives business owners and dessert professionals perspective, insight and tools for improving your business and product, and reaching your target audience.
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