UK eating habits are ever-changing due to tightening purse strings and hectic schedules, with consumers driven more towards convenience food. Popular trends such as red velvet cupcakes and French macarons, have also affected what customers purchase.Despite this, the muffin has taken its place as a popular and profit-making snack in the past year. In April, Dawn Foods discovered in a consumer survey that the muffin was the nation’s favourite treat, with more than half favouring double chocolate or chocolate chip varieties, and 25% voting for blueberry flavours. The snack beat off stiff competition from cakes (20%), flapjacks (3%) and shortbread (1%).Jacqui Passmore, the bakery manufacturer’s marketing manager, says the muffin’s appeal has grown over the years as a popular tea break accompaniment. “Coffee and a muffin is the perfect combination and the poll illustrates just how popular this is. It’s also interesting to see how mainstream muffins and cookies have become, in comparison with more traditional treats.”Research over the past two years indicates that muffin sales are on the up, with overall spend much higher than cupcakes. Kantar Worldpanel found in 2009 (52 w/e 1 Nov 2009) that consumers spent almost £64.4m on the baked goods, increasing to £71.9m in 2011 (52 w/e 30 Oct 2011). The cupcake boom appears not to have affected the muffin market, with sales figures reported for the on-trend baked treat much lower, at around £28.3m this year.The food retail market currently reigns supreme in value and volume when it comes to muffins, with an increase of 15% compared to out-of-home consumption, which fell 12.7% in 2010 (Kantar and NPD Group).BakeriesIncorporating new varieties into a bakery’s offering is what Gary Reid, joint managing director of Reids of Caithness, says works remarkably well alongside its traditional Scottish fair such as shortbread. “We feel that muffins are a high-end and indulgent product, and customers are looking for something a bit different. Bakers should, however, be developing interesting flavours that are not over-complicated.”Muffins are a treat definitely a product that’s quite filling and a bit of fun. But we must think outside the box and create something new and fresh for customers, while keeping to our traditional roots. That’s why we think our Banoffee variety is very popular.”Reid adds that producing new muffins should not cost the earth: “We’ve got to look at what we already have, in terms of equipment and ingredients. Muffins have a similar shelf-life to loaf cakes, so it’s not all that difficult to produce a range.”SupermarketsMuffins continue to face stiff competition in supermarkets from other baked goods, while the growth of the in-store bakery, producing fresh food on-site, means existing product ranges on the shelves need to stand out and be more appealing than ever.Gary Frank, managing director of The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys, explains the key to ensuring muffins remain an important part of its offering lies in meeting the latest customer demands. “Consumers and buyers constantly tell us they want more variety, so we have introduced new flavour variants to the range throughout 2011 including blueberry, sticky toffee and lemon & white chocolate,” says Frank. “Alongside our original flavours, chocolate chip and double chocolate, we continue to develop flavours for our muffin line.”Its activity has yielded success this year.Frank adds: “We have seen a definite increase in muffin sales this year, due to launching a number of new flavour variants. Although cupcakes make up 50% of our business, muffins still account for a significant portion (40%).Food to goThe constant revival of the muffin as a convenient yet indulgent snack is the reason why Isabelle Davis, brand communications manager for Delice de France, feels the company and overall food-to-go market has been so successful in selling the product. “Muffins are still a very strong part of the offering in foodservice, with 33% of all food bought in cafés being muffins (source: Kantar 52 w/e 10 July 2011). This sector has seen a lot of product innovation, with premium filled muffins and also tulip-shaped cases, which give added interest and appeal for consumers.”Delice de France’s approach of following consumer trends has brought success. Its triple chocolate and blueberry muffins, as part of its new Wrapped to Go range, are now the brand’s top-selling flavours.The growth of the muffins market has been put down to its convenience as a snack and its ongoing popularity in the food-to-go sector. Stephen Clifford, marketing controller for Country Choice, says bakeries and retailers should make the most of product placement opportunities. “Sales of traditional bakery snacks like muffins have been driven largely by promotional activity. They also tend to be an impulse-driven purchase appealing to the desire for comfort food, especially during the cold weather. Siting the impulse display unit in the right place is vital.”Ingredients manufacturersWhether it is working with fashionable flavours, such as red velvet and salted caramel, or producing flavours with a British twist, such as strawberries and cream, Jania Boyd, category marketing manager at Macphie, explains why it is important to look at key trends to draw in the sales. “The popularity of TV shows such as MasterChef means that consumers know more about flavours, combinations and techniques, than they ever did. So their food choices have become more sophisticated and adventurous.”Working with existing flavours and tweaking them with toppings and filling is a quick and cost-effective way of giving muffins an innovative twist. “Giving established favourites a contemporary makeover is a popular trend,” adds Boyd. “The more indulgent muffins are, the more impulse sales will rise. It’s not uncommon to see double and triple chocolate, lemon or toffee muffins, which are iced or topped with a swirl of frosting and a surprise filling in the centre. These deliver an extremely satisfying eating experience.”Kristen Girard, principal food scientist at the Ocean Spray Ingredient Technology Group, believes targeting the health-conscious market is an ideal avenue for 2012: “As the trend for ’better-for-you’ foods continues, manufacturers are turning to so-called ’skinny muffins’ to offer consumers treat options with reduced sugar, fat or calorie content. This is where fruit ingredients come to the fore, replacing chocolate chips and adding an exotic touch to well-established muffin flavours.”The firm has developed a BerryFusions Fruits inclusions range to target this area of the market, available in blueberry, strawberry, pomegranate, orange and cherry varieties.The 2012 muffin marketThe muffin market has a lot to offer bakers and food retailers in 2012. Boyd adds: “One emerging trend is to take inspiration from one category and apply it to another for example, dessert-inspired muffins such as lemon meringue, sticky toffee pudding, apple crumble and cheesecake varieties.”The vast appeal of the muffin means it has the ability to work in numerous markets. Its versatility means it can be positioned as an indulgent treat, grab-and-go snack or healthy option. But listening to the consumer remains key to making a healthy profit.