Regional American Desserts Travel Well

July 7, 2022

Operators showcase items that boost their regional culinary credentials and drive menu excitement

Regional American desserts offer restaurants a chance to appeal to local preferences, bolster the authenticity of their regional menus, and showcase culinary traditions from around the country.

From Mississippi mud pie to Boston cream pie, and from beignets to buckeyes, regional specialties from other parts of the U.S. can infuse variety into any menu and generate excitement and trial. Just as consumers are seeking out new international flavors and experiences when they dine out, they are also open to trying unfamiliar American foods and new dessert menu ideas.

Operators can enhance the appeal of these items by offering regional desserts at their restaurants, identifying the specific region of their origin, and telling a bit of their backstories.

Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, for example, a fast-growing sports bar concept based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, offers beignets on its dessert menu, and describes them as “a Louisiana classic.” The company recently featured them in its promotion of a new location in Harrah’s Las Vegas casino.

“Our team of culinary experts has worked diligently to ensure that guests of this new location are welcomed with an authentic Louisiana experience," says Brandon Landry, founder and CEO of Walk-On’s, in a statement announcing the opening.

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is another Louisiana-based chain that has long incorporated beignets as limited-time offers, which have become part of the regional appeal of its menu. Its recent Wildberry Beignet LTO is described as a New Orleans-style fried pastry with mixed berry filling and dusted in powdered sugar.

Research from Datassential shows that beignets are still in the “adoption” stage, with overall menu penetration of only 1.3%, but they have experienced a 15% increase during the last four years. They are the top-trending dessert type in the Western region of the U.S. in that time, with menu penetration up 101.6%. This dessert menu idea is also quickly gaining a presence on Midwestern menus, with a 4-year increase of 35.3%.

Key lime, a regional dessert flavor from Florida that has gained widespread appeal through the state’s famous Key lime pie, is further along on the menu-adoption cycle, and has reached the stage of “proliferation.” It is ubiquitous in the South region of the U.S., and is in fact the top-indexing dessert in the region, according to Datassential.

The Key lime flavor continues to appear in a variety of forms on restaurant menus across the U.S., including in the recent introduction of Key Lime Cheesecake at the bakery chain La Madeleine. The item features Key lime-flavored cheesecake on a graham cracker crust.

Another southern favorite that now appears on menus throughout the country is Grasshopper Pie, most often made with a crust of crushed OREO Cookies and a filling made from heavy cream, melted marshmallows and flavored with crème de menthe, according to Main Street Creamery in Connecticut offers a version of Grasshopper Pie made with an OREO crust and filled with mint chip ice cream, along with “cake crunchies” and hot fudge.

Regional flavor preferences

Chocolate is the top flavor on dessert menus across the U.S., according to Datassential. It is the most common flavor on dessert menus, the most well-loved flavor by consumers, and the most frequently consumed dessert flavor.

It is often a featured ingredient in regional dessert recipes, from Texas sheet cake to Ohio buckeyes. It also frequently appears as a sauce with regional specialties, such as Southern biscuits with chocolate gravy, an Arkansas favorite.

Several trending dessert menu ideas, such as sea salt caramel and brown sugar, have experienced growth throughout the U.S., and some globally inspired desserts, such as churros and mochi, have also experienced growth on dessert menus across all regions. Nostalgic flavors are generally at the top of dessert preferences in every area of the U.S., and handheld desserts, such as cookies and brownies, are among the top dessert forms in all regions of the country.

Overall, however, dessert preferences show some regional variations. Asian and Latin desserts tend to be more popular in the West, while rich pies and puddings appear on more menus in the South, and classic Italian desserts skew toward the Northeast.

One example of a western regional chain with Latin-inspired desserts is Del Taco, which last year rolled out an OREO Cookie Horchata Shake as part of an LTO. This thick, creamy beverage was filled with OREO Cookie Pieces blended with horchata. Other on-menu beverages during the LTO were a Mexican Chocolate Shake and a Mocha Iced Coffee.

In fact, OREO parent Mondelēz International has long provided featured ingredients for several regional chains’ restaurant dessert menu ideas. They include Hopdoddy, which launched OREO Cookies n Fries as an LTO earlier this year; Bahama Bucks, the shaved-ice chain that last year introduced OREO Cookie Sno; iconic New York City cupcake chain Baked by Melissa, which rolled out RITZ Cracker Salty-Sweet Cupcakes in three varieties as an LTO; and hot-dog chain Wienerschnitzel, which featured an OREO Cookie Pumpkin Shake

No matter what region of the country you operate in, Mondelēz International offers recipes and dessert menu ideas to drive traffic and sales in your restaurant.

Let's Chat Snacks

Join our Let's Chat Snacks community and be the first to know when we drop new articles, trends and insights with updates delivered directly to your inbox.

movie theather

© Mondelēz International group