Can muffins keep up with pace of change?

Muffins are well-established in the breakfast and snacking market, but as occasions featuring them fall, what can suppliers to do help them stay relevant?

On the surface, the UK’s muffin category seems pretty static. The sweet treats perform solidly in out-of-home breakfast and snacking, but struggle to gain traction beyond this, putting them at risk of losing out to more innovative products that better meet consumer needs.

Signs of this are already appearing. Data from analyst MCA’s Quarterly Bakery & Sandwich Tracker highlights a 6% decline in snacking occasions featuring a bakery item [52 w/e 31 March 2019]. What’s more, sweet bakery bore the brunt of this, as occasions featuring them suffered a 4% decline.

“Sweet bakery has suffered the biggest decline,” notes Daljit Johal, data scientist at MCA Insight. “Each of the top five sweet bakery items purchased as a snack have declined year-on-year.”

That includes muffins, alongside cookies, cake slices, biscuits and brownies.

So, what can suppliers do to help muffins keep up with the fast-paced world of bakery innovation? Can they reduce their reliance on the snacking occasion and make headway in lunch, for example?

NPD is, as expected, at the heart of this.

“The success of sweet bakery grab-and-go options depends on innovation. So, to encourage impulse purchases throughout the day, it is essential to offer products that meet this need,” explains Kath Norton, category marketing manager at sweet bakery manufacturer Rich Products.

“Enjoyment is a key reason to buy for consumers,” she adds. “However, muffins rank lower in this than doughnuts or sticky buns, for example. This presents an opportunity to elevate the indulgence offering by developing muffins with more fillings, toppings and innovative flavour combinations.”

For some, this means relying heavily on nostalgic and retro flavours (see box out above), while for others it’s about reinventing consistently popular flavours with a twist or opening them up to new audiences by making them suitable for those with certain dietary requirements.

The Artisan Bakery, for example, recently rolled out a trio of vegan muffins in its three most popular flavours – apple crumble, blueberry and chocolate.

“Consumers are after more from their usual American muffin, whether it’s fusions of flavour, moist texture, nutty inclusions, crunchy toppings or a smooth injected centre – it’s all about adding value in this growing category with a fully loaded indulgent muffin,” adds Jacqui Passmore, UK and Ireland marketing manager at Dawn Foods.

This led to the development of two frozen sweet muffins for Dawn Foods at the tail end of last year – the first being a Williams Pear & Chocolate Muffin, which featured pear pieces, pear jam and plain chocolate chunks in the company’s signature muffin mix. It tapped consumer interest for heritage flavours and provenance ingredients, said Dawn, while the Breakfast Muffin (which contained apricot pieces, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds with an apricot jam and granola topping) was aimed at those seeking a healthier start to their day.

“There is still scope for further growth in the breakfast market by offering a healthier option and steering away from more indulgent chocolate flavours,” adds Rich Products’ Norton.

Health was also front of mind for Kara, the foodservice arm of Finsbury Food Group, when it teamed up with cereal giant Weetabix for a duo of branded breakfast muffins earlier this year. Available in Apricot & Oat and Apple & Raisin variants, the muffins are low in saturated fat and are a source of fibre, according to Kara. It also sought to reduce the sugar in its Tulip muffin range in line with Public Health England 2020 guidelines – the Lemon & White Chocolate and Blueberry variants had sugar slashed by 20%.

“Consumers are becoming more conscious of what they are eating and, with the healthy food trend growing at a pace, it is important that producers respond to these demands,” says Jane Olney, commercial director at Finsbury Food Group.

“We are seeing more demand for high-fibre products, especially in the education sector, whereas added protein and reduced sugar are still at the forefront of consumers’ minds,” Olney adds.

Portion control is also a viable option when it comes to improving the health credentials of muffins.

“Mini muffins are really hitting the spot at the moment – appealing to consumers who like to indulge but without the guilt,” explains Gordon Lauder, MD of frozen food distributor Central Foods.

“Miniaturising a muffin is a great way for bakers to lower the calorie count without compromising on texture and taste. It’s also a good way to make a muffin more versatile in the way it’s sold.”

But it’s not all about removing ingredients or making products smaller. Healthier products often require healthier additions.

“Muffins can be easily adapted by adding healthy additions such as chia, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or fruit and nuts to increase fibre. Protein is a huge trend in healthy eating and creating protein muffins will appeal to consumers who want a snack that will keep them fuller for longer,” explains Helen Sinclair, European market intelligence manager at CSM Bakery Solutions.

Savoury inspiration

Adding vegetables is another option and could help muffins secure a place at lunch or dinner tables.

“A move by consumers away from traditional meal consumption to alternative options, which deliver both nutritional benefits and taste experience, sees twists on traditionally sweet products earn centre-stage at meal times such as breakfast or lunch,” says Michael Schofield, marketing manager at British Bakels.

Enter savoury muffins. While the concept has been bubbling in the UK for a few years, it has really only gained traction this year. 

Puratos, for example, has recently added a Satin Savoury Mix to its range, which can be used for creating savoury patisserie, including cakes, pastries and muffins. Dawn Foods is also tapping into the trend with a Savoury Muffin Mix, which it describes as having “minimal salt and sugar levels”, while Central Foods has boosted its KaterBake range with a savoury, three-cheese mini muffin, made with Emmental, mozzarella, goat’s cheese and chives.

“Incorporating healthier inclusions into savoury muffins allows bakers to simultaneously tap into the trends for functional food and savoury patisserie.

Adding seeds to muffins can boost overall protein levels, for example, and vegetables can provide additional health benefits,” says Lydia Baines, digital and communications manager, Puratos UK.

Alice Baker, research analyst at Mintel, believes savoury muffins – with pieces of tomatoes, bacon or onions, for example – could be promoted for the lunchtime occasion as a more convenient option than sandwiches, as they effectively already have fillings in them.

However, this might not be an easy sell. “In the UK, the sheer lack of familiarity with the concept is a barrier to greater uptake of savoury muffins, as many people are quite habitual when it comes to cakes and sweet baked goods. Over half (54%) of cakes/cake bars/sweet baked goods eaters/buyers stick to the same flavours,” she says.

Half of consumers may be content with bog-standard blueberry or chocolate muffins, but if suppliers don’t seek out the more adventurous ones with innovative flavours and healthier offerings, their muffins run the risk of being left on the shelf.

Keeping things sweet when it comes to trends

Fun and indulgence are the name of the game for creating on-trend sweet muffins.

“Sweet muffins which offer an experience beyond flavour and visual appeal, evoking nostalgic memories through the use of classic confectionery flavour profiles, continue to drive the category,” says Paul Maxwell, marketing manager at Aryzta Food Solutions UK.

For Aryzta, this often takes the form of seasonal muffins. This summer it created a limited-edition Pink Lemonade Muffin (pictured) which saw a lemon muffin filled with a raspberry & lemon curd and topped with pink sugar crystals and an edible yellow straw.

There’s more in the pipeline for winter. “Retailers will soon see the return of our range of limited-edition festive muffins this winter, featuring classic gingerbread, chocolate orange and triple chocolate flavour profiles, tapping this demand for nostalgic indulgent seasonal treats,” Maxwell adds.

CSM Bakery Solutions points out that, unlike cupcakes, muffins are not highly decorated, so bakers will need to find other ways to embrace the seasonal twist. “Flavours can either be added to the dough or in the form of an injected filling or drizzle on top to complement the dough flavour,” notes Helen Sinclair, European market intelligence manager, CSM.

Meanwhile, Puratos notes the growing popularity of muffin flavours inspired by tradition and heritage, such as rhubarb and custard, Bakewell and chocolate pudding. “The tartness of rhubarb and gooey centre of chocolate pudding provide a popular contrast to the more classic sweet and non-filled muffin options,” notes Lydia Baines, digital & communications manager, Puratos UK.

Muffins that deliver a burst of fruit flavour are also popular, according to Dawn Foods, which notes the growing use of tropical fruit, such as pineapple and coconut, as a fresh flavour option.

“Muffins filled with origin fruit such as Canadian Blueberries or Sicilian Lemon remain high on the consumer wish list for taste and satisfying interest in food provenance,” says Jacqui Passmore, UK & Ireland marketing manager, Dawn Foods. “Injected muffins featuring chocolate (usually Belgian or Ecuadorian) with a blackcurrant filling or an indulgent strawberry and cream cheese combo injection, for example – also offer a satisfying and moist eat.”

Pea, Ham and Mint Savoury Muffins

Ingredients

  • Satin Savoury Mix, 175g
  • Bread flour, 50g
  • Egg, 87g
  • Water, 62g
  • Oil, 94g
  • Shredded ham hock, 70g
  • Defrosted garden peas, 70g
  • Chopped mint, 8g
  • Black pepper, 1g
  • Sea salt, 1g

Method
1. Using a planetary mixer and beater, combine the savoury batter ingredients.
2. Mix for 2 minutes on slow and 3 minutes on medium speed.
3. Deposit the batter into lined muffin trays at 120g per cup.
4. Bake at 170°C for 34 minutes.

Source: Puratos

USA Meat Feast Muffin

Ingredients

  • Dawn Savoury Muffin Mix, 1000g
  • Vegetable oil, 300g
  • Water, 700g
  • Salami pieces, 140g
  • Pre-cooked sausage pieces, 120g
  • Pre-cooked green peppers, 130g
  • Pre-cooked jalapeño peppers, finely chopped, 6g
  • Dawn Unishine Plus

Method
1. Add the oil, water and Dawn Savoury Muffin Mix into a mixing bowl, fitted with a beater, and mix for 1 minute on 1st speed.
2. Scrape down and mix for a further 2/3 mins on medium speed. Fold the inclusions into the batter, but keep some green peppers, salami, and sausage pieces for decorating.
3. Deposit the batter into 80gm cup cases.
4. Before baking brush with Dawn Unishine Plus and decorate with sausage, peppers and salami pieces.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 185°C in a multi deck oven or at 165°C in a fan-assisted oven.

Source: Dawn Foods

Packaging matters

Packaging matters when it comes to muffins. It helps with the grab-and-go aspect, but also offers the chance to premiumise.

“Portability is important: wrapped baked goods that have been specifically designed to be eaten on-the-move and that can be eaten with minimal mess will hold mass appeal at any time of the day,” says Kath Norton, category marketing manager at Rich Foods.

What’s more, the muffins’ packaging presents a prime opportunity to further emphasise a product’s seasonality.

“We are able to provide printed paper products to cover all seasonal events during the year, such as Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s and Easter, thereby creating product differentiation and ensuring shelf stand-out,” notes Chelsie Dobson, sales and marketing executive at packaging supplier i2r.

Global NPD – muffins from around the world

Prozis Chocolate Muffin, Germany, 2018

This isn’t a bog-standard chocolate muffin. Prozis has positioned it as both premium and better-for-you, according to Mintel, by
stating on-pack that the ‘guilt free gourmet’ muffins have 92% less sugar than standard products. It is also described on-pack as an on-the-go snack suitable for ‘mums, kids, seniors, athletes and busy professionals’.

Hibi Café Pumpkin Muffin, Japan, 2018

This pumpkin muffin from Japan is designed for Halloween, as highlighted by the Jack-o-lanterns on the front of pack. Mintel believes that unusual flavours such as pumpkin could help with differentiation in the UK, particularly as seasonal products for Halloween are far less common than those for Christmas, thus helping to encourage a more varied range of usage occasions for the category.

Paris Baguette Quattro Cheese Muffin, South Korea, 2019

A rare example of a savoury muffin, this Quattro Cheese muffin is made with cheddar, gouda, camembert and parmesan for an over-the-top cheese flavour. Sold in a pack of two, the product is described on its packaging as having a rich flavour.

Li Piumette Organic Spelt Muffins, Italy, 2019

This home baking kit from Italy taps the significant consumer interest in cakes made with non-standard flours. According to Mintel, cakes made using alternative flours are deemed more interesting than products made with standard flours, such as wheat, by 32% of users/buyers, rising to 41% among under-35s.

Source: Mintel

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