Caramel and chocolate have stolen a lot of thunder from fruit fillings and toppings in recent years – but interest in health and exotic flavours means fruit is as relevant as ever.

Forget the health agenda – there’s little sign of Brits losing their interest in a bit of sweet indulgence.

Chocolate and salted caramel toppings and fillings have been dominant, according to Macphie, and a glance through any patisserie’s window will confirm this. But that’s not to say fruit isn’t still popular.

“Consumer insight shows increasing demand for more fruit-based alternatives to chocolate and salted caramel flavours,” says Bill Smith-Coats, business development director at The Cake Crew, which has launched new berry fruit cupcakes, using whole strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. “Shoppers are avoiding baked goods that use artificial fruit or flavourings and choosing ones with real fruit pieces.”

Dawn Foods suggests the trend for un-iced ‘naked cakes’, with fruit fillings visible from the side of the cake, is evidence of growing demand for ‘natural’ ingredients.

“While a sweet treat is an indulgence, one containing real fruit is seen as a permissible treat,” says Dawn Foods marketing manager Jacqui Passmore. “Consumers perceive products to be cleaner, healthier and more natural if they feature fruit, seeds or nuts.”

Or even a mixture of all three. “Growing flavours include cherry, pecan, praline, coffee, toffee, almond, yoghurt, malt and honey,” says CSM Bakery Solutions category market leader Cristiana Ballarini. “Cherry, banana and apple are seen more frequently, with cherry Bakewell hybrids, banana breads and muffins, and apple tart crossovers.”

Such ingredients are being used to appeal to younger consumers’ more adventurous palates, says Puratos marketing director Francesca Bandelli. “Upcoming flavour combinations include apple with chia seeds, caramelised apple, strawberry with honey and cherry with star anise,” she explains.

The Puratos Taste Tomorrow study shows that 51% of British consumers expect a wider range of flavours, textures and colours from their baked goods, prompting a host of NPD from the firm, including the addition of a sea buckthorn product to its Topfil range. “The rise of street food in the UK and travel becoming more accessible, mean increased knowledge of world food and a craving for the exotic,” says Bandelli.

According to Macphie, more than 70% of consumers have expressed interest in new flavours in sweet bakery, and Macphie category marketing manager Anna Massie points to the growing use of energy-boosting Japanese matcha tea as an ingredient.

Coconut has perhaps the greatest chance of becoming the next salted caramel, given the impact it has had of late on everything from drinks to toiletries. But there are others with an outside chance too. For example, Dawn Foods reports growing demand for pomegranate toppings and fillings as Middle Eastern cuisines gain popularity.

Richard Hazeldine, national sales manager at Zeelandia, concurs. “We’re seeing increased demand for products such as passion fruit and mango,” he says, while stressing that the classic strawberry and forest fruits fillings remain the best-sellers.

It’s a view echoed by Simon Brown, MD of supplier John Morley, who says: “Mango is big in the US because of the large Hispanic population. Those kind of trends do come over to Europe, but it will take more than a few mangoes to knock apple and strawberry off their perch in the UK.”

Meanwhile, fruits with provenance, such as Polana raspberries, Senga Sengana strawberries, Sicilian lemons or Latvian blueberries can help convince customers to pay slightly more for a product, which is useful when “cost pressures remain a key challenge”, says Massie. “However, trends are delivering premium offerings, which allow for the inflation to be absorbed through added value,” she adds.

Flavour and colour trends

1. Dawn Foods’ pomegranate compound

Dawn Foods reports growing sales of its pomegranate compound, used here for an exotic twist on the traditional ring doughnut.

2. Showing a passion for passion fruit

Interest in passion fruit as a bakery ingredient continues to grow.

3. Rainbow Eclairs from Macphie 

“Colours are now dictating flavours, with big bold vibrant colours leading to strong flavours,” says Macphie category marketing manager Anna Massie, pointing to these botanical rainbow éclairs.

4. Matcha tea as an ingredient

The functionality trend has hit sweet pastries. This selection of sourdough doughnuts from Macphie uses matcha tea, which is renowned for its energy-boosting properties.

5. Citrus flavours, but with provenance, please

Citrus is on the rise, with Innova data showing a 30% increase in orange and lemon flavours. Such ingredients increasingly come with a provenance claim.