Kate Rockwood

3 Tips for Marketing Sweet Baked Goods to Restaurants

Today’s restaurant diners have complex demands. With instant access to nearly limitless information, as well as growing curiosity around health, ingredient provenance and global cuisines, consumers are discerning, and their expectations for quality are high. And that’s as true at full-service restaurants as at quick-service eateries.

“How consumers are thinking about sustainability is changing, and how we’re thinking about global food is changing,” says Melissa Abbott, vice president at food and beverage consultancy The Hartman Group in Bellevue, Washington. “That’s part of the consumer conversation, touching every one of their dining decisions.” And, while some may be tempted to dismiss certain trends as impacting only Gen Z (born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s) or millennial (born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s) diners, Abbott is quick to point out that, “even Gen X (born between the mid-1960s and 1979) and baby boomers are getting in on this.” 

That holds true across the globe: In Canada, Restaurants Canada found 82 percent of operators see environmental sustainability as moderately to very important to the success of their business, according to Foodservice and Hospitality. In the U.K., consumer focus on provenance and sustainability is a long-term trend for fast-casual operators, according to a Deloitte report. And in Australia, a survey by reservation platform OpenTable found 81 percent of diners say it’s important to eat ethically sourced food when dining out, and more than half prefer restaurants that use local and seasonal produce, reports the country’s Hospitality magazine

For restaurants, that level of demand can be a challenge. But for baked goods manufacturers that supply to these businesses, solving that problem can be a huge opportunity. The key is to ensure the business’s marketing resonates with restaurant decision-makers and positions its sweet baked goods as solutions to this challenge.

Here are tips to consider:

1. Lead With Trends

Restaurant owners must keep track of consumers’ changing demands and tailor their menu to new preferences. Buying from a baked goods manufacturer is one way to ease this challenge, freeing up restaurants to focus more on other parts of the menu. “A restaurant owner might know they want more globally infused desserts available but not have the in-house staff or training to execute them,” says Erik Enyedy, senior director of national technical sales and service for Dawn Foods. “A lot of them want to be efficient, and that may mean leaning on a manufacturer.”

Marketing Message: Whether your baking facility cranks out 10 types of sweets or 100, the trick is to lead your marketing materials with the latest trends. Tie those trends—supported by research—to an item you’re selling, demonstrating you’re serving a clear need in the marketplace. Yes, some restaurant owners will gravitate toward the classics when they’re ready to buy, but spotlighting your trendiest products is more likely to grab their attention initially. Don’t think you have to hire a market researcher to stay current either, Enyedy says. “Trade shows and food service and baking publications are a great place to start,” he says. “Lean on your suppliers and vendors as well.”

2. Play Up Your Size

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to baked goods manufacturers, and restaurant owners know this. “Big manufacturers can sometimes be conservative, because changing things for a big run can be risky,” Enyedy says. “Smaller manufacturers can often be more creative” because their operations can be more nimble and even experimental, he says. 

Marketing Message: Instead of trying to appear as large as possible, embrace your size as a small or medium-sized manufacturer. Can you customize an offering—say, using blood orange extract instead of traditional orange in a pastry—and deliver an order in as few as three days? Are your puff pastries still made by hand? Can you execute small-batch orders that wouldn’t be margin-makers for giant companies? If the answers are yes, promote these advantages in your marketing materials, Enyedy recommends. These value propositions will appeal to restaurant decision-makers looking for quick, agile partners who can handle smaller and custom orders.

Additionally, with more diners expressing interest in sustainability and eating local, baked goods manufacturers can target restaurant operations in their community by marketing the facts that their production facility is located in the same region and their ingredients are sourced locally, too.

3. Tailor to the Target Audience

Enjoy a solid return on your investment in marketing by creating distinct materials for each target customer.

“For a restaurant that caters to a vegan or gluten-free audience, you might really spotlight those offerings,” and even underscore your bakery’s ability to adapt other offerings to fit certain dietary preferences, Abbott points out.

But to grab the business of a traditional restaurant, leading with dietary differences might be a turnoff. “You’d want to signal some other element of distinction—like your global orientation or your local-only ingredients or your premium versions of reimagined American classics,” she says. “It depends on what the restaurant is into.” 

And even if you’re marketing the same baked goods to two types of restaurants, your presentation should vary, she says. Instead of touting the gluten-free nature of a donut, for instance, highlight that it’s made with sorghum flour—an ancient grain that’s on-trend but doesn’t necessarily scream specialized diet. 

Marketing Message: Before you mail marketing materials or set up sales meetings, research your prospect well. “Knowing what type of restaurant and the consumers they are serving is key to providing the best options for them to increase their average check with profit-driving desserts,” Enyedy says. Study the restaurant’s menu (typically available online) and social media posts. Is the business paying a lot of attention to its local suppliers? Spotlighting a rotating menu of global offerings? Does it have a dedicated section for allergen-, gluten- or dairy-free dishes?

Highlighting the parts of your brand that best align with the restaurant’s own messaging can make that partnership an easier sell. 

As restaurants face a challenge to keep pace with diners’ evolving demands, baked goods manufacturers can succeed with relevant, impactful marketing.