Still room for dessert? Five innovation thought-starters for UK development teams in 2023/24

Egg Soldiers spotlights five eye-catching desserts from across UK hospitality amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, discussing evolving consumer perceptions and potential hot spots for 2023/24
Caramel pecan dessert
During a cost-of-living crisis, translating UK dessert trends can be tricky business, with consumers continuing to curb weekly spending habits in order to save money.

Non-essentials are always the first to go, with a recent study by KPMG revealing that half of all UK consumers have cut back on discretionary spending since the start of 2023 (with two-thirds said to be reducing their eating out spend).

And since we cited research from IGD's Eating In Vs. Eating Out report in our dedicated article on zero waste set menus at the end of 2022 - research that said 43% of UK diners would be specifically looking to skip dessert as the cost-of-living crisis bites; it's been clear that many restaurants are now trimming back on the number of sweet options available on à la carte menus, often eschewing larger, more complicated numbers in favour of small, sweet hits to round meals off.

In retail, UK consumers are gravitating towards affordable, nostalgic puddings, with Ocado revealing in March that sales of its Arctic Rolls (£2) were up 143% compared to the previous year, with its Sticky Toffee Pudding and Bread & Butter Pudding both more than tripling in sales, up 201%.

So what does this mean for food innovation teams looking ahead with their dessert NPD? With the cost-of-living crisis showing little sign of abating (and with a potential recession looming large); what sweet spots should food professionals focus on for 2024 (and beyond)?

Here at Insights Lab by Egg Soldiers, we're actively working with clients to identify business-specific opportunities for new and existing dessert development in these uncertain times, syncing with bespoke operational strategies to refine and improve broader food offerings across both retail and foodservice.

This week, we're showcasing five dessert thought-starters as part of first stage product ideation, with off-menu creations, grown-up riffs on nostalgic classics, and a new cheesy dream all on the London-based menu.

Choc Ice Collabs
Mondo x Vagabond, Southwark
Mondo Brewing Company recently paired with Clapham-based pizzeria Joe Public to launch a new pizza and beer spot in Borough Yards, with its tiny dessert list comprising just two choc ices.

As a pizza slice operation, any desserts by Mondo Beer + Pizza really had to be handheld to keep convenience high, with the team collaborating with vegan choc ice innovator, Vagabond, to develop an exclusive flavour that features the former's 11.5% barrel-aged imperial stout, Candy Candy.

The beer is said to have a "thick chewy body, notes of coffee, chocolate and cinnamon with a sweet vanilla finish", with the Candy Candy choc ice a great way for Mondo to stay on-brand with a simple, handheld dessert option, which comes in at £6.

Mondo Beer + Pizza also has a second choc ice for those not into imperial stouts: a peanut butter and jelly option.

Robin Gill’s neighbourhood Italian restaurant Maria G's took to social media in January to shout about an "off menu hack" for its Fulham Riverside outpost: a combination of its maritozzi and fior di latte gelato desserts.

Now, we already have our eye on maritozzi, the Italian sweet cream buns that are becoming increasingly on-trend via London's bakery scene (and we'll be going into more detail in a future deep dive), while soft serve is now a well-established go-to for nostalgic ice cream experiences for diners across UK hospitality.

Allowing diners to combine the two for a custom dessert is eye-catching, bringing customisation into the fold to push perceptions of not only personalisation and a greater connect to the restaurant with a 'hack', but also value, namely getting the best of both worlds in one dessert.
Food Trend to Food Concept

What to expect:

  • Understand the state-of-play with Asian-inspired chicken with an expert-led overview, innovator examples, and a spotlight on potential opportunity areas for the UK market.

  • Journey with us through fried/breaded chicken seasoning opportunities, exploring viable retail applications and digesting analysis.

  • Discover a brand-new retail seasoning concept as an example of our 'trend to concept' methodology, with the team discussing ingredient builds and suitability for the UK market.

  • Understand possible range expansions, backed up by AI-led product concept showcases.

We're big fans of Whyte Rushen, the rock-and-roll former Brat and Scully St James chef who's part of the new wave of nostalgia-driven comfort food innovators making scenes in London.

A staple dessert option within his ever-expanding repertoire of indulgent, flavour-led dishes offered via his regular pop-ups and collabs is cheese with custard apple, a dollop of honey and classic McVitie's Hobnobs.

Cheeseboards are, of course, a common feature on restaurant menus across the land, yet prices can often approach £20 in London - prohibitively expensive for many diners during a cost-of-living crisis. Pair that with the potential not enjoy some of the cheeses as much as others on a board, which can be only natural as part of the experience, and you may have diners thinking twice.

Whyte Rushen has simplified matters, choosing one cheese per pop-up/event (which have included Roue Cendrée, a creamy goat's cheese, and the Occitan-Basque sheep's cheese, Ossau-Iraty), with the three-pronged pairing of creamy custard apple, sweet English honey, and nostalgic Hobnobs delivering an approachable, balanced take on the after-dinner cheese course.

Blurring the lines between dessert and drink is the Filipino sweet staple, halo-halo.

Light, refreshing, versatile, and takeaway-friendly; halo-halo is traditionally made with crushed ice and condensed milk, topped with all manner of sweet ingredients boasting contrasting textures, such as ube ice cream, jackfruit and taro.

With classic dessert eating occasions increasingly questioned by penny-pinching consumers in the UK, we're considering a broader range of formats designed to spark interest, with Filipino coffee house and bakery Kapihan really pushing its halo-halo options this summer.

Its classic British strawberries and cream version caught our eye, with such recognisable, mainstream flavours a gateway for consumers to discover this new dessert format without having to brave lesser-known Filipino toppings.

We're talking Kent strawberry compote, Northiam Dairy vanilla scoop, Biscoff crumbs, heaps of Japanese shaved ice and evaporated milk.
Sign up for our
FREE food trends & insights newsletter!
Regular food trend intelligence from the experts, straight to your inbox

Image: @tomcenci
Launched in March, Nessa is a new British bistro from Tom Cenci in Soho, with the restaurant offering old-school desserts like baked alaska with seasonal fruit, upside-down cake, Black Forest trifle and roly-poly with custard.

As we've mentioned (plenty of times), nostalgia remains firmly in. Arguably nowhere more so than on the dessert menu. But not all nostalgic sweet treats have to be exactly how you remember them, with grown-up spins on classic options increasingly emerging as chefs look to put their stamps on proceedings.

Nessa's jelly & ice cream dessert, offered during the Coronation weekend in April, is a fine example.

Going off of the classic strawberry jelly blueprint, Cenci and the Nessa team developed their own version, combining chilli-spiced strawberries and Nyetimber Rosé jelly with classic vanilla ice cream.
UK dessert action points 2023/24
  • Think Smaller
    When we say small, we don't mean just a simple scoop of ice cream.

    Amid a cost-of-living crisis, smaller should mean smaller dessert menus to hone focus; smaller should mean innovation in terms of format and delivery; smaller should translate to smaller prices for the diner; and smaller, from a flavour perspective, should mean bigger.
  • Collaborate & Customise
    With dessert norms challenged, development teams should look to collaborate with artisan innovators to create daring specials to pique consumer curiosity.

    Brand pair-ups are superb for syncing fan bases and whipping up excitement, while also potentially speeding up development processes and encouraging innovation.
  • Trust in Nostalgia
    While UK dessert trends may be somewhat dictated by the cost-of-living crisis, nostalgic food and drink options continue to ring true with consumers across generations.

    Find favour with not only faithful renditions of classic British puddings, but also innovative riffs, creatively elevating options with upmarket elements and subtle stamps of originality.

Meet our trend specialists and discover our unique 'Chef Nexus' & research methodology

Read our free deep-dives and sign up for our regular food trends newsletter

One F&B topic, one-page PDF format. Short, sharp food intelligence