- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2011

Small is big when it comes to dessert trends.

From Mini-Blizzards at Dairy Queen to the new line of Petites launched recently by Starbucks, sweets are shrinking to fit a craving for snack-sized portions.

“There’s a huge trend of minidesserts,” says Annie Young-Scrivner, global chief marketing officer for Starbucks. “Our research shows that customers are looking for that little something in the afternoon. They don’t want it to be very big. They just want a couple of bites of something to complement their tea or espresso or other beverage.”

And so Starbucks Petites were launched. The line features eight items, all of which pack fewer than 200 calories each and cost $1.50, including cake pops (cake-on-a-stick), whoopee pies and lemon squares.

The move toward smaller desserts started some years ago, says Kathy Hayden, a food-service analyst for Chicago-based Mintel research company. Eating healthier was one factor. Another was having more choices; you could have a just bite of apple pie and a spoonful of pudding. When the economy went sour, the smaller price tag of tiny treats became all the sweeter.

Barista Emily Sly takes an order at a Starbucks store inside the company headquarters in Seattle. The desserts in the case in front of her are newly introduced Petites, fewer than 200 calories each and priced at $1.50. (Associated Press)
Barista Emily Sly takes an order at a Starbucks store inside the ... more >

Bite-sized desserts have made the top five restaurant trends for the past four years, according to surveys by the National Restaurant Association, though that seems to have settled down. The minitreats came in as the 35th trend out of 226 in a What’s Hot in 2011 survey of more than 1,500 chefs.

A pioneer in petite patisserie was Seasons 52, an Orlando, Fla.-based chain that specializes in fresh, healthy options and has nothing on the menu more than 475 calories.

Coming up with a dessert was a challenge, says Cliff Pleau, senior director of culinary and beverages. But then someone suggested, “Why don’t you get the real thing and stuff it in a little cup?”

He went out and bought dessert ingredients, got some shot glasses, and within a few hours, the concept of Mini Indulgences was born.

The desserts, which include Key lime pie and chocolate and peanut-butter mousse, cost about $2.50. Most have between 200 and 300 calories.

The key, Mr. Pleau says, is to make sure the flavors are intense.

“We’ve got 3 ounces to really get our point across,” he says.

Minidesserts also have been popping up at quick-serve restaurants, including Dairy Queen, which last summer introduced Mini-Blizzards, 6-ounce versions of its trademark Blizzard soft-serve frozen dessert. The mini, about half the size of the smallest Blizzard, was a response to customer feedback, says Michael Keller, chief brand officer.

“There was a very large trend afoot in general with how consumers were eating and, specifically, Blizzard customers were looking for something a little smaller and therefore easier on their wallet and easier for some of them on their calorie counts,” he says.