Savoury muffins are growing in popularity in the UK, with flavours influenced by trends in the US and Australia, as well as consumers’ increased interest in healthy bakery goods

Say the word ‘muffin’ to a Brit and they are likely to think of either the US-style sweet treat typically containing blueberries or chocolate chips, or the flat English-style bread best served toasted and dripping in butter.

But there’s a not-so-new kid on the block that has been tipped for further growth – the savoury muffin. Similar in appearance to a US-style muffin, these can contain a wide range of ingredients including cheese, ham, mushroom and onion.

Muffin Break was one of the first major UK bakery chains to add savoury muffins to its menu, after they proved a hit with consumers in the brand’s Australian stores.

Savoury muffins currently account for a modest 5% of the chain’s UK sales, but this is growing according to Muffin Break marketing manager Gemma Sandells. The chain’s range of savoury muffins, which are all gluten-free, includes mushroom, parmesan & pesto; mushroom, spring onion & pineapple; and its best-selling ham, cheese & tomato.

“Muffin Break’s muffin sales are increasing year on year. Growth has come from savoury muffins and limited-edition Muffin Lab creations,” Sandells says.

“We serve our savoury muffins warm and with or without butter, with sales peaking mid-morning and at lunchtime. Muffin Break is looking to increase the variety of savoury muffins in the next 12 months as demand continues to increase.”

Bakels, which supplies Muffin Break with ingredients for its savoury muffins, reckons the perceived health benefits of meat and vegetables may help to drive growth of savoury muffins into other retail outlets.

“Take London, a haven for new bakery formats, savoury muffins are popping up in many high-end bakeries at premium prices,” says Bakels marketing manager Michael Schofield.

“Pitched alongside sandwiches and other lunchtime items, savoury muffins may grow into a serious competitor to these lunch-time staple formats, or at least prove a popular accompaniment.”

Last year, Bidvest Foodservice launched its Premium Selection range of savoury muffins, which include farmhouse

Cheddar cheese & onion; and farmhouse Cheddar cheese, tomato & spinach muffins, supplied frozen.

At the time of the launch, Bidvest Foodservice bakery category manager Rachel Cook said the versatile range could be enjoyed in place of a croissant or sweet muffin. “We wanted to show we are not afraid to be a little bit innovative and a little bit different,” added Cook.

Savoury muffins are well placed to tap a number of trends in bakery, including demand for lower-sugar and free-from products.

“The trend in gluten-free coupled with consumer demand for healthy bakery options, has definitely been a driving factor in innovation, with bakers extending their ranges to include gluten-free muffins as part of their mainstream branded product ranges,” says Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager for Dawn Foods.

She adds that “anything goes” as far as savoury muffins are concerned. “Experimentation has seen the emergence of savoury muffins and, as a result, a growth in savoury/sweet flavour combinations [see box below].”

Savoury muffins are also well placed to benefit from the decline in regular mealtimes and increase in snacking. A recent Euromonitor study, How We Eat: The Changing Face of Global Mealtimes, finds the line between snacking and breakfast is blurring for many consumers, with many grabbing a quick bite on the move.

Sweet Treats

Although savoury muffins are becoming more popular (see main copy) sweet and savoury combinations, such as salted caramel and chilli chocolate, are also in vogue, according to CSM.

“Growing flavours include tropical fruits, coconut, dark chocolate, toffee and caramel. Pistachio nuts and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, aniseed and nutmeg are becoming more prominent,” says Margarethe Schneeweis, category market leader for pastry mixes Europe at CSM.

The bakery company recently launched its American brand Henry & Henry in the UK, specialising in muffin mixes for chocolate, toffee and plain. “It’s important for muffins to look visually appealing, and without the elaborate decoration seen in cupcakes, they need to have a good colour, cracked top and plenty of fillings and toppings,” adds Schneeweis.

Dawn Foods says that across the whole bakery category, products that remind consumers of their childhoods are prominent and being demonstrated in American-style muffins too.

“Think Eton Mess muffins or red velvet with strawberries and cream, both of which have a strong emphasis on ‘mouthfeel’ and texture. The popularity of afternoon tea as an occasion has also seen a rise in tea used as a flavour – even in muffins,” says Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager for Dawn Foods. “A recent product innovation is an Earl Grey & raspberry muffin and we’re seeing more of matcha tea as an ingredient both for its vibrant colour and anticipated health benefits.”

Dawn Foods believes that experimentation in formats and texture – bringing the rise of hybrid products – is helping to maintain consumer interest in muffins. “The market has seen some recent product overlaps such as cheesecake muffins, scruffins (scone and muffin); cruffin (croissant and muffin) and even the mufgel which combines a muffin with a bagel. Watch this space!” says Passmore.

The mufgel was created by New York-based bakery The Bagel Store in August 2016.

English-style innovation

It’s not only US-style muffins that have been attracting the attention of product developers.

English-style muffins might be thought of as a little, dare we say, old-fashioned by some consumers, but are being brought on-trend by innovations such as Waitrose’s recently launched Cheese & Pepper Muffin (pictured). They are described by the retailer as “destined to liven up the morning” by offering “the perfect mix of tangy and savoury mature cheddar with cracked black pepper”, and are sold in four-packs priced at £1.50.

Irwin’s Bakery, which  produces Rankins Selection English muffins, launched an ancient grains muffin containing wholemeal rye flour, einkorn wheat and emmer wheat last October.