Bakery Innovation: Five Steps To Mixing Up Sweet Ideas

by | Sep 28, 2023

Do you ever find yourself avoiding certain areas of the grocery because you’ll probably end up buying something that wasn’t on the list? Aisles of sweet baked goods are a prime example of why you shouldn’t shop on an empty stomach! And sometimes, even if you are satiated, a sweet treat just sounds good! Innova found that 40-50% of North Americans buy cakes, pastries, and sweet goods because they taste good and want to indulge or reward themselves.

With so many loyal (albeit sometimes hesitant) buyers, bakery is a huge category! According to Expert Market Research, the global bakery product market reached $480 billion in 2022 and may grow at 6.7% CAGR between 2023 and 2028.

Every new cookie, donut, or pastry flavor starts with an idea. But how do you brainstorm your next innovation? You can increase your chances of in-market success by using a strategic process for generating creative ideas. Let’s explore five steps to sweet success in bakery innovation.

1. Survey Brand Guardrails

Before embarking on your innovation journey, it’s important to understand your brand’s guardrails. Think of guardrails as a safeguard, keeping you from straying too far from your brand identity, goals, and customer perception. A guardrail isn’t there to limit creativity but to ensure your brand stays consistent and recognizable to buyers.

For Established Brands

How do your current customers think about your brand? Do they see you as traditional, novel, or cutting-edge? Answering this question establishes a boundary for how far you can take flavor.

Consumer research can help you find ways to push those boundaries. Are some flavors, formats, or functionalities too far afield from how your brand is perceived? Can you offer multiple formats? A trending flavor? Some brands have a high threshold for innovation. Snickers brought their beloved chocolate, caramel, and nougat combination into the pie category and introduced a nostalgic butterscotch variation of their classic candy bar.

For Start-Ups

Begin by understanding your brand’s reason for being. What’s your point of difference? What kind of customer do you want to connect with? Answering these questions will affect the flavor palette you can use and guide your efforts. And what defines success? If you’re a small brand selling online or through one or two brick-and-mortar locations, success will have different metrics than a national brand wanting to gain 1-2% market share.

assorted pastries on baking sheets


2. Research the Current Landscape

After defining your brand guardrails, it’s time to go shopping. Wander through the bakery aisles of grocery stores or visit local bakeries. How are your competitors innovating with flavor and format? Do you notice trends in new product development? Look for patterns in flavor innovation (e.g., novel berries, citrus, yuzu, lychee), themes like indulgence or nostalgia, and functionality such as added protein, mood enhancement, and low/no sugar.

If time and budget allow, your research phase should also include talking with your brand buyers (or people buying sweet baked goods if you’re just starting out). Listening to people talk about their experiences can offer unique qualitative insights. You can enhance your initial insights from these conversations with quantitative surveys or by analyzing launch data with new product databases like Innova or Mintel.

Format and Flavor Drive Purchase Decisions

Earlier this year, we conducted an online survey with 280 Americans who purchase sweet bakery items to see which ideas from in-person conversations had potential. We asked about the first characteristic people look for when making a purchase. More than half (53%) named format (cookie, donut, pastry) as the primary driver when buying sweet baked treats. Beyond format, we learned that flavor leads the way in influencing choice for sweet baked goods. Price also plays a role, followed by texture.

Influences on Sweet Bakery Purchase Decisions
% Agreeing

Chart showing Influences on Sweet Bakery Purchase Decisions

FlavorSum proprietary research, North America, 2023


Core Sweet Bakery Flavors Focus On Indulgence and Fruits

We used Innova’s database to look up the top 20 flavors for global sweet baked goods launches in 2022. You’ll notice many classic and familiar flavors on the list!

Top Flavors in Sweet Bakery (Global, 2022)

  1. Milk Chocolate
  2. Vanilla
  3. Chocolate Chip
  4. Dark Chocolate
  5. Cocoa
  6. Strawberry
  7. Hazelnut
  8. Almond
  9. Coconut
  10. White Chocolate
  11. Lemon
  12. Caramel
  13. Orange
  14. Red Raspberry
  15. Oreo
  16. Fruit
  17. Cinnamon
  18. Honey
  19. Raisin
  20. Blueberry

We also examined how flavor rankings shifted over the past four years and found core bakery flavors are fairly stable. The top seven flavors had the same rankings in 2018 and 2022, reinforcing that people stick with their favorite flavors in the bakery aisles. Raspberry and cinnamon rose in the ranking (moving up five and four places, respectively). Fruit, honey, and raisin all lost two places from 2018 to 2022 but remain in the top 20. Cranberry took the 18th spot in 2018 but dropped to 23rd in 2022.

assorted cookie flavors on a pink background


3. Brainstorm Flavor Ideas

Now that you’ve established brand guardrails and researched the landscape, it’s time to get creative! Gather your formulation experts and trusted ingredient suppliers in the same room (or on the same video call) to brainstorm flavor ideas and prioritize the top concepts. Have a list of questions ready to help qualify and prioritize ideas.

  • Does this idea fit within our brand guardrails?
  • What’s the estimated potential for “x” new flavor?
  • How does profitability compare for flavor vs. function?
  • Are there practical considerations like supply chain or regulatory concerns to work around?
  • Does this concept match our production capabilities?

When our team reviewed the list of popular bakery flavors alongside our survey results, we noted the presence of white chocolate and lemon. Our flavorists and applications experts developed an idea for a lemon-lime white chocolate cookie. The creamy white chocolate and subtle lemon-lime notes are reminiscent of a cream pie or citrusy dessert.

A second idea was for a brown sugar peach loaf. The warm and rich profile combines two of the fastest-growing sweet bakery flavors and tastes delicious in a cake or muffin format. Innova notes that traditional flavors like brown sugar and butter have strong ties to nostalgia and quality.

4. Bring Your Best Ideas to the Bench

With your promising new sweet bakery concepts, you can begin drafting formulas, connecting with ingredient suppliers, and creating benchtop samples. Key questions for this stage of the innovation journey include:

  • What’s your format?
  • How will you use inclusions?
  • What are your label requirements?

The benchtop exploration may require a few iterations until you and your team agree that the taste experience aligns with your expectations. Ideally, your timeline will include opportunities for customers to taste your samples and offer insights.

5. Prepare to Launch

Your plan is coming together! With a delicious and on-trend prototype ready to go, you’re ready to get your new bakery item on the shelf. You’ll need to work closely with your team to navigate the complexities of the commercialization process.

  • Order ingredients and packaging supplies
  • Verify labels meet regulatory guidelines
  • Confirm production and ship dates with internal or external partners
  • Evaluate quality after production scale-up
  • Generate buzz through marketing and social media outreach

Remember to check in with retail partners and people trying your latest innovation. Their feedback will help you adjust the formula and provide insight for future bakery innovations!

Begin Your Bakery Innovation Journey with FlavorSum

Your next bakery launch will be easier if you use industry insights and expertise to guide your innovation journey. FlavorSum’s Innovation Journey Guide can help you prepare for a successful trip and avoid potential roadblocks along the way.

Do you have specific challenges or questions? Our flavor experts are ready to help you If you navigate development hurdles and speed time to market. Connect with our team to get started!