From the frothy crown on a chocolate milkshake to a topping that takes a Belgian waffle to the next level, whipped cream is having a moment.
Whipped cream menu penetration increased 5% from 2018 to 2019—and 11% since 2015, per Datassential, with 37% of operators currently using cream or whipping cream in both the front and back of the house. Grand View Research, meanwhile, projects that the global whipped cream market, valued at $5.98 billion in 2018, will experience a compound annual growth rate of 8.1% through 2025.
Consumer demand for rich, indulgent fare has remained strong through the COVID-19 pandemic. Operators can capitalize on these cravings—and differentiate their offerings—by incorporating whipped cream into waffles, hot chocolate and other menu items, says Jessica Foust, RDN, vice president of culinary innovation and nutrition at food innovation consultancy Creative Food Solutions.
“Everybody is looking to comfort themselves through this global catastrophe. Whipped cream is a natural way to do that,” Foust explains, noting that operators should be trying to create menu opportunities that “make whipped cream a really special added touch that takes us away from the prepared [items] at a grocery or convenience store.”
What might those opportunities include? Here are some ideas to trigger your creativity.
Ensure Beverages Offer a Texture Treat
Premium dairy-based whipped cream offers a superior taste compared with whipped topping products made with hydrogenated oils, says Saputo Dairy USA’s Nikki Trzeciak, executive chef and senior manager, culinary and sensory. With whipped topping, “your lips, palate and mouth get a little oiler, greasier coating,” she explains. “If you have real dairy-based whipped cream, you notice a distinctly different flavor and texture.”
When used with a hot beverage, such as hot chocolate or an Irish coffee, a dairy-based whipped cream topping can help enhance the overall taste—even if a lid prevents customers from physically seeing the cream. “As it melts in, it [creates a] more luscious, creamy experience, making the item more indulgent,” Trzeciak says.
Create a Craveworthy Appearance
Restaurants used to shape public perception of their menu items primarily through professionally taken photos posted on their website. But the rise of social media has given operators less control over how they’re represented online, Trzeciak says. Consequently, menu items should be designed to consistently deliver a visual punch.
“Every dish going out needs to look impeccable—and offer people an opportunity to eat with their eyes,” Trzeciak says. “Aerosol whipped cream is a way to [achieve] that. It provides height to the product and acts as a canvas. You can coat it with sprinkles, stick a Kit-Kat in, rest a donut on top; it kind of makes a little pillow.”
Complement Different Dessert Components
Both chefs are quick to point out whipped cream’s versatility. Due to its sweet cream flavor, the topping can add creaminess to “multiple menu items—whether that’s Mexican spiced hot chocolate, a latte or cheesecake,” Foust says.
Whipped cream also helps balance out dishes that contain potent flavors and ingredients. “It’s a functional topper—it cuts strong, bold flavors, and makes them more palatable,” Trzeciak says. “In a super-heavy cheesecake dessert that’s really sweet and strong and packed with caramel flavor, whipped cream tempers that indulgence.”
Appeal to Customers’ Eating Habits
Whipped cream use in beverages, breakfast fare and other menu items also can be a potential selling point for consumers who have transitioned from the low-fat, low-calorie mindset that was popular decades ago to examining where their food comes from and the nutritional benefits (such as calcium) it can provide, says Mark Brandau, an analyst at Datassential.
“People are looking for descriptions of production methods like clean label, organic, and free of additives,” Brandau explains. “The move toward real whipped cream instead of topping is part of that trend. Consumers are more willing to buy something or pay more for things that are positioned as high-quality and made the right way.”
Offer New Avenues for Whipped Cream Inclusion
While whipped cream use tends to center on breakfast, beverages and desserts, Faust feels the foodservice industry may be able to capitalize on other applications in today’s takeout- and delivery-focused environment.
“Ways to elevate both toppings and beverages for at-home experiences is something to be explored,” she says. “Are there opportunities to sell a signature whipped topping with your dessert? [Could operators give customers opportunities] to buy a whole cake and get a whole garnish package, similar to the cookie kits people sell with prebaked cookies and frosting and decorative things?”
The recent increase in unique liquor-infused milkshakes and other beverage offerings may also present an opportunity for operators whose profitability dipped during on-premises dining closures. “People are trying to find new ways to invigorate their bar program in restaurants,” Trzeciak says, pointing to food trucks and brick-and-mortar locations offering boozy popsicles and adult ice cream experiences as examples to consider. “Boozy shake/dessert concepts are becoming popular because we know [restaurants] make money on alcohol behind the bar. They can also become a destination for that item.”
Make Whipped Cream Use a Worthwhile Addition
There are caveats with dairy-based whipped cream, of course. A dollop of whipped cream from an aerosol container will hold its shape in takeout and delivery orders longer than hand-whipped cream, but the consistency won’t last indefinitely.
Given this reality, Foust advises operators to examine the packaging and travel time involved in their delivery process and consider providing vessels that separately keep items hot or cool. Or, they can focus on including whipped cream with chilled items such as cheesecake, where it would perform better.
“It could be a whipped cream garnish with chocolate curls or seasoning that’s indulgent,” she says. “Whipped cream adds an element of freshness, similar to the way produce adds freshness, because people know it’s so delicate. It elevates the overall experience.”
In addition to adding flavor and visual appeal, whipped cream can transform a basic beverage or other dish into a truly decadent treat. Highlighting any dairy-based whipped cream use in your menu item descriptions and other materials can help present those items as luxurious options—and simultaneously let customers know you’re utilizing the highest-quality ingredients in milkshakes, breakfast dishes and other fare to consistently deliver exceptional value and taste.
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