Widespread innovation is keeping the muffin category very much alive, as Andrew Williams discovers

It has been a good year for muffins. So much so, that they may even provide an answer to world peace and not many bakery products can claim that. The US military is reportedly tempting captured Taliban insurgents into talking with chocolate nut muffins (true story).

This year saw one in 10 more households buying muffins and by that, we mean the UK, not Afghanistan. Spend on in-store bakery muffins has been a runaway success in 2010 and volumes have shot up by a quarter. While much of this is down to price discounts and promotions on packs, a 15% value rise is nonetheless impressive. Plant-manufactured muffins also posted steady growth.

Retail is winning the war with foodservice. Figures supplied by NPD Group, which tracks the foodservice market, showed a strong decrease in the number of out-of-home servings of muffins, down 12.2% (52 w/e September 10, 2010). However, it should be noted that much of that decline is accounted for by fewer muffins supplied into education and the workplace; the share of the market supplying into quick service retail outlets actually increased by 2.9% over this time. More people are eating muffins as a late snack, while afternoon consumption, which by far dominates out-of-home consumption of muffins, declined.

So where next for market innovation? "I have started catering for the non-sweet-toothed person and found that my range of savoury muffins has really taken off and sells out very quickly everywhere I go," says National Cupcake Week finalist Angie Townsend of The Tiny Cake Company. "They are proving very popular with our male customers, who tend to shy away from the girlie buttercream swirls and glitter." Savoury muffins lend themselves to creative flavour combinations such as farmhouse cheddar & bacon, savoury Italian and asparagus and cheese, she adds.

For those of us sick of the sight of blueberry and chocolate muffins, there is thankfully some innovation emerging in the category. "We’ve seen a move away from chocolatey options seen in so many cafés," says Charlotte Pike, MD of free-from specialists Go Free Foods. "Our streusel toppings and simple icings are popular, as are fruity, nutty options. One other thing is the size of the muffin. We have found our smaller-sized muffins a good choice, rather than the huge, bulging muffins sold in many coffee shops."

Inclusions and toppings are very much a trend, believes Jacqui Passmore of Dawn Foods. "For example, our Victoria sponge muffin, which has a jammy, creamy taste sensation, is something that is increasing in sales, as well as flavours like treacle coffee or toffee chocolate crumble topping."

The boundaries between cake-type products and muffins are set to blur further, says Adrian Apodace, marketing director of Honeyrose Bakery. "With muffins we are seeing customers experiment more, asking for more bold flavours, including superfoods, exotic fruits, and hybrids between a muffin and cupcake: a muffcake. But you may not be allowed to print that name due to decency laws." Press Complaints Commission, do your worst.

l Puratos has relaunched its Satin Muffin Mix to meet 2010 salt reduction targets; it has no azo dyes or trans fats and gives improved flavour and appearance

l If you’re strapped for time, Macphie is now offering thaw-and-serve muffins in four flavours: blueberry, lemon, double chocolate, and raspberry and white chocolate

l CSM has a Chocolate Creme Cake Mix, characterised by a rich chocolate flavour and dark colour that can be customised with chocolate chips, fruit, nuts or dark cherry pieces; there is also Plain Creme Cake Mix

l Mitchell & Cooper is supplying a range of Silikomart Professional moulds in shapes from traditional muffin cases through to hearts, pyramids and volcanoes