“While consumers often gravitate towards familiar and comforting flavours and formats, prioritising safe bets that provide satisfaction, this inclination does not completely rule out experimentation,” notes Ellie Nikolova, marketing manager bakery at ingredients firm Cargill.

Data from Innova Market Insights’ survey conducted in 2022 backs this up. It found that 63% of consumers would make an impulse purchase if a product featured an innovative flavour.

“Notably, younger consumers exhibit a particularly adventurous spirit when it comes to sweet treats, with nearly one in three willing to experiment with desserts and confectionery. This demographic’s openness to trying new flavours contributes to the dynamism and diversity within the bakery landscape, fostering an environment ripe for flavour innovation and experimentation,” she adds.

A brunette woman taking a photo of an enticing bakery counter

Source: Getty Images / lechatnoir

This adventurous spirit is fuelled by social media, particularly TikTok and Instagram which serve as platforms for bakers to share their creativity and consumers to react to the weird, wonderful, and tasty treats that are found on the market.

So, what flavours will bakery consumers be sharing on their socials in 2024 and beyond? And how can bakers of all sizes tap into them without just doing it for the likes?

Adventure is out there

As Disney’s Up so beautifully puts it: “Adventure is out there!” Luckily for modern day consumers, “there” is often at the tip of their fingers and at the local bakery, not just in South America.

“As far as flavours are concerned, adventure is back on the menu as people explore and embrace new flavours from around the world as well trying unexpected flavour blends,” says Jacqui Passmore, marketing lead West EU & AMEAP at Dawn Foods.

She highlights Middle Eastern influences such as sour cherry, rose and pistachio, which are set to “feature heavily in desserts and cakes this season”. The addition of nuts, seeds, and spices is also rising as they bring both texture and depth of flavour to baked goods. Luxury doughnut brand Donutelier is among those to tap into this with its Sweet Rose Doughnut featuring pistachio & vanilla filling, meringue, Chantilly cream, raspberry jam, ground pistachios and a fresh raspberry.

International flavours are also infusing bakery with new combinations offering endless possibilities.

“Combining sweet with savoury flavours is on the increase across different categories with some combinations more obscure than others,” says Julie Telfer, NPD manager for Silvery Tweed Cereals. “In broad terms, these can be grouped into sweet & spicy, sweet & salty, sweet & smoky, and sweet & sour.”

Some of the combinations, Telfer notes, are well known – think salted caramel and dark chocolate & sea salt. Others are more unusual. “Newer more complex combinations include hot honey (honey with added chilli heat), smoked banana & miso and smoked pineapple,” she says.

A small bowl of honey with chilli flakes in

Source: Getty Images / Eleonora Grigorjeva

“There is a growing appetite for innovative flavours like chilli honey and umami, reflecting consumers’ willingness to explore new taste experiences”

“There is a growing appetite for innovative flavours like chilli honey and umami, reflecting consumers’ willingness to explore new taste experiences,” iterates Nikolova from Cargill. She points to The Food People’s Bakery Snapshot 2023 for proof which found that many of the up-and-coming flavours are being influenced by Eastern culinary traditions. “Ingredients such as pandan, kimchi, za‘atar, and miso are poised to make their mark, infusing traditional formats with exciting twists.”

Much of this, Passmore notes, is driven by Gen Z consumers who have adopted TikTok and short-form videos on Instagram and YouTube as ways to digest information on trends in food and drink.

“The challenge for the bakery industry is to keep up with such a fast-moving dynamic. A flavour can be on trend one minute and old hat the next. Limited edition products are a fantastic way for bakers to attract younger consumers and we are finding that bakers are using flavours as a ‘quick hit’ way to give existing products – like a doughnut or a croissant – a contemporary makeover,” she adds.

One such example is Bread Ahead’s crème brûlée doughnuts. There are posts galore on Instagram and TikTok, and not just from the bakery’s founder Matthew Jones.

Bread Ahead’s crème brûlée doughnut

Source: Bread Ahead

Bread Ahead’s crème brûlée doughnut

Limited-editions, Saturday specials, and seasonal switch-ups are common for smaller businesses who have the capabilities to mix things up at a moment’s notice but are becoming increasingly popular for bigger bakery firms as well. Just look at the hot cross bun category or Veganuary NPD for proof.

“Many smaller artisanal bakeries are producing plenty of seasonal bakes featuring on-trend flavours which are then highlighted on social media along with full explanations of the exciting flavour profiles in the descriptions too,” Passmore adds.

She highlights Lemon Meringue and Earl Grey Croissant Tarts and Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Early Bird Bakery in Birmingham as examples of this alongside Rhubarb, Cardamom and Vanilla Danishes and Tahini & Almond Cookie Sandwiches from Six Chimneys in Cheltenham.

Get your just desserts and more

The aforementioned crème brûlée doughnuts also serve as the perfect example of another trend in bakery – the use of classic desserts as flavour inspiration for other baked goods.

“We are seeing the influence of so-called retro desserts such as sticky toffee pudding, tiramisu, and cheesecake across the entire breadth of the category, and the products we see in retail in-store bakeries (ISB) too,” explains Samantha Winsor, marketing manager for bread and pastry supplier Schulstad Bakery Solutions, which is owned by Swedish parent company Lantmännen.

Jam Trifle Buns and Banoffee Tarts from Tesco’s ISB are served up as examples of this at a larger scale alongside Asda’s Extra Special Apple & Cinnamon Danish (topped with caramelised biscuit crumb to mimic the experience of an apple crumble in pastry form) and Rhubarb & Custard Danish.

Two buns with yellow icing and white and pink sprinkles on top

Source: Tesco

Jam Trifle Buns

These items could arguably be called hybrid baked goods but nevertheless seem to draw consumers in with flavours that are familiar and comforting in a new format.

Newfound nostalgia

Nostalgia is pretty much the backbone of the bakery category, according to Liz Gabriel, bakery specialist at flavour expert I.T.S. It’s the trend that keeps on giving as it engages consumers looking for something a bit more traditional and familiar while offering a new twist for younger generations.

“Many nostalgic treats are having a more grown-up makeover with cakes like Battenburg being rebranded to put more focus on the almond flavour,” notes Gabriel. “Retailers such as M&S have been tapping into this trend already with their chocolate covered custard creams. It’s all about taking those known and loved products to the next level.

“Plus, as these traditional products usually have a loyal fanbase, you’re bound to create a lot of noise from consumers who will either love or hate what you’re doing – but that’s the point.”

“Caramel evokes memories of indulgent childhood treats”

Examples include swapping in white chocolate to create White Forest, or blueberry instead of cherry for a Blueberry Bakewell. Peanut butter is also making room for pistachio, points out Kluman & Balter managing director Lawrence Watson, thanks to its stunning colour and great taste.

“Coffee cakes are also getting an upgrade,” he says, “and it’s not just cappuccino and chai, coffee is being teamed with a range of flavours from banana to Irish cream liquor.”

Another flavour that “epitomises nostalgia and resonates across demographics”, according to Cargill’s Nikolova, is caramel. “Caramel evokes memories of indulgent childhood treats like confectionery, bakery delights, desserts, and ice cream. Despite its enduring popularity, caramel continues to evolve, with manufacturers innovating across categories to introduce new and exciting caramel-infused products,” Nikolova adds.

Loud and proud

Away from warming caramel tones, in another part of the bakery sector, there is a colour explosion happening. Remember last summer when Barbie hit the big screens and everything across the land was given a vivid pink hue? Barbie may have started it, but bold colours aren’t going anywhere.

Cake or Death's Barbie Movie Brownies

Source: Cake or Death

Cake or Death was among the bakery businesses to embrace Barbie fever last summer

“The Barbie trend which exploded last summer may fade a little but the power of pop culture in bakery is only going to getting stronger,” states Gabriel from I.T.S. “This will include fantasy flavours, new formats, bold colours, and anything brands can do to relate to a new trend. Visually appealing and bright products will especially tie into this like doughnuts, cupcakes, and celebration cakes.”

These bright colours offer stand out on shelves as well as on social media and allow bakers to embrace a sense of fun and whimsy. These can be done through bold flavours within the baked goods but also by topping them with fun additions.

“Bakers are getting adventurous using cotton candy, marshmallow and even bubble gum to decorate a host of products to bring added value and the wow factor when it comes to flavour,” adds Watson from Kluman & Balter.

Edible flowers on a plate

Source: Getty Images / AnnaPustynnikova

“TikTok has spearheaded the rise of floral flavours, as content creators showcase visually appealing floral-themed desserts”

Fresh, fragrant, and floral

Other strong colours and aromas come from the rise of floral and citrus flavours in bakery. These tap into many of the trends above including international tastes, nostalgia, and bright colours. And, like many of the influences above, they are coming to the fore thanks to their popularity on social media.

“TikTok has spearheaded the rise of floral flavours, as content creators showcase visually appealing floral-themed desserts, encouraging bakeries to incorporate flavours like lavender, rose, and elderflower into their products,” believes Schulstad Bakery Solutions’ Winsor.

These add “unique and sophisticated” elements to traditional baked goods, she adds, which appeal to consumers seeking novel taste experiences, particularly the Gen Z audience.

Passmore at Dawn Foods suggests combining the “the subtlety and aroma of floral flavours” such as cherry blossom, lavender, violet, hibiscus, elderflower, and rose along with “traditional flavours from the garden” like rhubarb or Bramley apple to tap into this trend.

These flavours are likely to come to the fore in the warmer seasons and have already been seen for Mother’s Day from Lola’s Cupcakes, which offered Lemon & Elderflower and Raspberry & Rose cakes.