Through the downturn, the desserts market has held up well but it has been own-label and core own-label rather than premium own-label leading the growth. Now, it looks like the brands are staging a comeback.

"Normally you would expect brands to be a higher value and lower volume share actually it’s the other way around at the moment," notes Nadine Mason, marketing controller for Elisabeth the Chef. The £90m business, which supplies 90% own-label cakes and desserts and 10% licensed products, has made a concerted shift towards brands in the last month with its launch of Thorntons desserts in October.

She believes there is a massive opportunity to improve value in the category. "My perspective is that the brands should be the value drivers in the category," she says. "Bakery desserts tarts, pies, cream cakes etc is one of the lowest branded penetration categories in food. Even if brands go from 2% to 10% next year, the value in doing that has got to be significant for the trade."

At the moment, brands are only fifth on the list of things that attract consumers to a dessert, according to a recent report by YouGov SixthSense; brands influence just 21%* of people (behind price/special offers; flavour; fat/sugar content; and the quality of ingredients). Meanwhile, it remains a conservative category, with only a third (33%) of respondents saying they liked to try different brands, while 32% were loyal to a brand or type of dessert. "Brand is an important factor for men aged 16-24 and those in the C2DE social grades," stated the report. "This is likely to be because it makes the task of choosing a dessert quicker and easier. Manufacturers need to get these loyal consumers to trade up and try new products by promoting them."

Everyday confectionery brands such as Cadbury are leading the branded sector. Having overtaken Gü in hot puddings, Cadbury tends to be driven by volume on deals. Gü, owned by Noble Foods, has promoted heavily in the past year to keep its price points affordable.

Leading the way on the brand revival is Waitrose, which has been particularly active in branded desserts. Its Maison Blanc range was followed by a new organic line in October from Celebrity Chef Anton Mosimann, manufactured by What On Earth. This week it will launch two premium French Senoble desserts, again made by Elisabeth the Chef La Tarte Citron Meringuée and L’Ile Flottante.

Meanwhile, Farmhouse Fare recently launched a 300g microwaveable Lovetubs range of puddings, designed to take dessert eating from the dining table to the sofa, and aimed at reintroducing 25- to 34-year-old women to hot puddings. Nigel Parrott, marketing director of Daniels Group, which owns Farmhouse Fare, says the product is carefully targeted "at a price point that is premium, but affordable". "This autumn, Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s have all launched new lines into top-tier desserts. So perhaps the time was indeed right."

Reviving premium is not only about price point, it’s about not being too elitist, believes Mason. "The structure of the category and consumption occasions need to come through more clearly in future thinking if desserts are to avoid becoming commoditised," she says.

Ingredients supplier Macphie has also entered the branded ready-to-make desserts category, with a product called DeviliShh. "Being able to store products as ambient is of great benefit, as store-cupboard items can be a life-saver when faced with a last-minute dessert emergency," says assistant marketing manager Martin Wright.

* YouGov SixthSense, 1-3 March 2010; 1,193 main shoppers aged 16+ who eat chilled desserts in their household