The DIY Dessert Experience

March 15, 2019

The DIY Dessert Experience

Foodservice operators have an opportunity to drive more off-premise sales by offering dessert meal kits that customers can assemble and enjoy at home.

Many consumers might not be ready to eat dessert right away after a meal, but would be open to taking a build-your-own dessert home — provided the dessert kit offered the right experience.

Meal kit providers that have been dabbling in DIY desserts are finding that consumers are looking for options that keep it simple and make it fun.

“We’re all about helping our customers create amazing culinary experiences at home, and dessert is great way to round out a meal or add a special element to a fun occasion you’re celebrating,” says Elana Karp, head chef and culinary co-founder of Plated.

Following are four lessons for foodservice operators seeking to offer DIY, take-home desserts:

1. Keep it simple

A key challenge for foodservice operators is to offer rewarding dessert options that don’t require too much effort on the part of consumers. Baking can be a complicated process, so providing as many premade or partially made ingredients as possible is key.

“Desserts are relatively simple when it comes to our offering,” says Karp. “We’re able to keep the ingredients to a minimum with fewer recipes steps than our meals in many cases.”

Plated’s “no-churn” ice creams, for example, call for whipping heavy cream with a whisk and stirring in condensed milk, which creates the ice-cream base. That base is then frozen while the home cooks assemble various toppings and flavorings.

“I think people are amazed at how easy it is to make without an ice-cream maker,” says Karp.

Home Chef, another meal kit provider, has tested a variety of dessert recipes that its customers can make at home, including a cinnamon apple galette, a layered chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies.

“What our customers value most is quick and easy cooking that does not involve special equipment or extensive kitchen experience to create a great meal, every time,” says Paulina Boonman, culinary director at Home Chef.

2. Focus on special events

Marketing DIY desserts for parties, groups or celebrations is also an effective strategy that foodservice operators could adapt. Consider desserts that could be made as a group to become part of a birthday party celebration, for example.

Greg Fleishman, co-founder, president and chief operating officer at Foodstirs, which supplies organic baking kits that are popular for parties, says his company seeks to bring out the “inner chef” in its customers. Popular Foodstirs dessert kits along those lines include:

  • Out Of This World Donut Kits, which allow customers to create Instagram-worthy, multihued “galaxy” donuts
  • Pancake Art Kits, which encourage customers to tap their creative impulses to create pancakes of various shapes, sizes and colors

“It's about bringing a unique but easy way to add some excitement to popular food forms,” says Fleishman.

Likewise, meal kit company Martha & Marley Spoon recently offered a cookie recipe that made two dozen large chocolate sandwich cookies, and a cake that served eight. The company seeks to add value to its dessert offering by providing dessert recipes that serve more than the two- or four-person plan that the customer has subscribed to, says Jennifer Aaronson, culinary director.

“We think about key events and holidays where a dessert would help with entertaining a crowd,” she says.

3. Family activities

DIY desserts can be fun for the whole family, something foodservice operators that seek to appeal to families can seek to capitalize on. Consider desserts that children can both enjoy and participate in creating.

“When we think about our customers with kids, making a dessert can be a fun and rewarding activity to do together,” says Karp of Plated.

An example of a fun dessert that Home Chef has offered is its “April Fool’s Day Special ‘Pizza’” — a dessert pizza that looks like a traditional pizza, but is made with:

  • Strawberry sauce instead of tomato sauce
  • Chocolate chip chunks in place of sausage
  • Marshmallow creme instead of cheese

To eliminate the challenges of mixing and baking a crust, the recipe uses two slices of naan flatbread, which are included in the kit. To further enhance the illusion, the kit includes fresh mint to place atop the baked pie in place of basil.

4. Leverage seasonality

Foodservice operators should also keep the holidays and seasonal ingredients in mind to generate excitement around DIY dessert offerings. Consider take-home dessert kits as an extension of your seasonal menu.

Plated, for example, offers a pecan pie for Thanksgiving, and also has seen strong customer interest in other seasonally inspired recipes, says Karp. Those include “summertime classics” such as:

  • S’mores Pies with Chocolate Ganache
  • Peach and Raspberry Cobbler with Whipped Sour Cream

Meal kit provider Martha & Marley Spoon offered a holiday cookie box in 2017, which contained the ingredients to cook four Martha Stewart cookie recipes from scratch. The kit was very popular, says Aaronson.

“We made life easier during a very busy time of year by offering our customers a product that was well-timed for baking at home with their families, or baking cookies as gifts,” she says.

Foodstirs also seeks to leverage seasonality in its baking kits, with items such as its popular heart-shaped donuts for Valentine’s Day.

More ideas for foodservice

Foodservice operators can also capitalize on consumer interest in DIY desserts in additional ways:

  • Offer take-and-bake items such as cinnamon rolls or brownies that can be prepared in advance and then warmed or baked by the customer at home
  • Provide a variety of toppings that allow customers to build their own ice cream sundaes at home
  • Offer all the ingredients and the recipe to make a dessert that the restaurant is known for

When it comes to dessert meal kits, it’s all about creating a fun experience for customers, no matter what the occasion.

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