Time-pressed consumers are increasingly turning to no-bake pie mixes, microwave brownies and microwave cake mixes.
Such products enable them to create a "homemade" dessert in a fraction of the time and effort it would take to make a traditional dessert, retailers report.
And though they only account for roughly 5% of total baking-aisle sales, no-bake items are gaining popularity with many consumers.
Items in the no-bake category include the Jell-O no-bake line from Kraft Foods and similar cheesecake mixes from Nabisco's Royal line of desserts. Also in demand are microwave products from Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines and Krusteaz.
According to retailers, sales of the no-bake and microwavable products see upticks during the holiday periods and the back-to-school season.
"The latest trends and hot sellers in this category include Jell-O peanut butter cup in no-bake and chocolate flavors in puddings," said Dawn Miller, communications coordinator for Charlotte, N.C.-based Harris Teeter.
"Items like the no-bake pie mixes do extremely well during the summer and holiday periods. People don't want to put the oven on and they will often make them to take to a picnic or outing," said Roger Burks, senior vice president at The Mad Butcher, Pine Bluff, Ark.
Pat Redmond, buyer at Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash., said the microwave brownie mixes have been selling well in his stores.
"We're seeing a pretty good flurry on the microwave brownie mixes. We have the Krusteaz brand and we have seen quite a few new items from them. We probably won't know until we're through the fall season, but there is some pretty fair movement on them. All of the Betty Crocker ones are doing well, too," he said.
"A lot of parents feel comfortable having the kids make them in the microwave when they come home from school. They also like to put them in the lunch box," he said.
When it comes to advertising the no-bake pies, microwave mixes and their pudding and gelatin cousins, retailers use a variety of tactics.
"For BTS in September, October and November, we will display and feature the microwave brownie and cake mixes," said Redmond.
To help build sales, Harris Teeter cross merchandises no-bake products with pie crusts and whipped cream. It also promotes them with displays and features, according to Miller.
The Mad Butcher's Burks said his chain steps up promotion of the no-bake products during the fall and winter holidays when their sales surge.
"During both Christmas and Thanksgiving the no-bake items are in our ads and we support that with shippers and endcap displays in the stores," he said.
In an effort to stimulate sales of no-bake dessert mixes, Vern Buford, head grocery buyer for Rice Food Markets, Houston, said his chain has conducted some product samplings in the stores.
"We may advertise them as a line item or as a sub-feature, but not as a feature," Buford said, noting that because the no-bake items do not have as broad an appeal as traditional cake mixes he does not use them as a "draw" to attract shoppers into the store.
Phil Quillin, president of Quillin's, La Crosse, Wis., said his stores run the no-bake items on special "a few times a year."
He said the items have been slow to catch on in his operating area, but he believes new department merchandisers from Kraft will help spur sales and interest in the category.
"I think there's a consumer lack of awareness of that category, and such a merchandiser will help build category awareness," he said.