As with many other bakery categories, the demand for healthier choices is driving new product development in traybakes. And the options, it seems, are limitless.

There’s a reason why traybakes and slices are a well-established part of many bakers’ repertoires – customers love them, they are relatively easy to make and extremely versatile.

With a simple base of sponge, brownie, shortbread or flapjack, a bake can be dressed with an almost endless range of indulgent toppings (see box p21). But while indulgence has been the traybake’s watchword, the demand for healthier options, now transforming so many bakery categories, is also prevalent in this one.

Fortunately, traybakes’ sheer versatility mean they are well suited to meeting the need for a healthier option, says Cristiana Ballarini, category marketing director of pastry ingredients, Europe at CSM Bakery Solutions. They can be cut into various different shapes and sizes, with a larger brownie-sized portion suitable for dessert or adult treats, while a thin slice or bite-sized chunk creates an option for children or health-conscious consumers.

“Many consumers are reducing their sugar intake and bakers are tackling this by swapping chocolate for fruit, nuts and seeds, for example, or by reducing the portion size to a snack size,” she adds. “These daintier-sized traybake slices are perfect for afternoon tea, and bites can be used for freakshakes, a side with a coffee or a canapé.”

Traybakes’ health credentials can be boosted by replacing refined sugar with naturally sweet alternatives, such as maple syrup, fruit purées – especially banana and apple – and dates, adds Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager of Dawn Foods.

This year, retail slices market leader Premier Foods rolled out a range of reduced-sugar cake slices under its Mr Kipling brand, which accounts for more than half the market (see Kantar Worldpanel box right). The cakes have 30% less sugar compared to a Mr Kipling Angel Slice, which contains 13.2g of sugar. They also average 92 calories per slice compared to 139 calories in an Angel Slice. “As shopper demands change, it’s important we evolve our brand accordingly,” says Premier marketing director Helen Warren-Piper.

The availability of gluten-free cake mixes now makes it relatively easy for bakers to tap the continued growth in this market.

“Using a gluten-free cake mix... bakers can easily offer a free-from option, then choose from a range of gluten-free inclusions and toppings, without compromising on a great-looking bake with fantastic mouthfeel,” says Louise Liddiard, marketing manager at Orchard Valley Foods Group, which supplies decorations and inclusions. Gluten-free inclusions such as cereals can be added to traybake recipes for tiffins, rocky road and flapjacks, among others, she adds.

Welsh manufacturer The Bakeshed is among firms that cater not only to free-from consumers – almost half its products are gluten-free – but is also tapping the booming vegan trend. Three of its 23-strong range are vegan, and its Ginger, Lime and Parsnip Slice is both gluten-free and vegan.

“As a vegan, it’s a struggle to find bakery products, let alone good ones, so when I tasted The Bakeshed’s vegan offerings, I was ecstatic,” says Chris White, foodservice controller at Delicious Ideas Food Group (DIFG), which recently secured an exclusive deal to distribute The Bakeshed products to contract catering businesses.

Savoury traybakes are also growing, says Liddiard of Orchard Valley, which supplies a ‘salt & vinegar crunch’ ingredient to add a retro flavour as well as mouthfeel. These can offer an alternative to sandwiches or pastries and be sold at a similar price to other on-the go snacks, she says.

While traybakes and slices are currently firmly associated with sugar and indulgence, it seems likely this won’t always be the case.

What’s hot in traybakes?

Trends driving the development of traybakes include twists on classic cakes as well as hybrid foods.

“Classic lemon drizzle cakes, bakewells, carrot cake, coffee and walnut cake, Jaffa cakes and even cheesecakes are appearing across the country as a traybake,” says Cristiana Ballarini, category marketing director of pastry ingredients Europe at CSM Bakery Solutions.

“Millionaire’s shortbread with different flavoured chocolate toppings and salted caramel, as well as various types of blondies and brownies are appearing frequently in bakeries to keep up with changing trends.”

It’s a view echoed by Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager of Dawn Foods, who says that as consumers have become more discerning about cake or fudge brownie variants, they are also after new flavour combinations.

“From salted caramel, millionaire’s, Oreo, Nutella and white chocolate blondies, there’s a range of brownie combinations that bakers can easily create using a basic quality mix.”

Products can be further premiumised with extravagant and on-trend decorations such as gold leaf, metallic icing, branded confectionery or rainbow and unicorn designs. Premium ingredients such as alcohol or dark chocolate can also transform a traybake to a high-value item and help it stand out on the shelf.