Baskin-Robbins joins maxi-trend toward mini-desserts

— -- A nation that once wanted all things big has discovered there's something besides smartphones and Smart cars that it now wants small: desserts.

That's why Baskin-Robbins, the world's largest ice cream chain, On Friday will announce that it's rolling out a Cake Bites line of four-bite desserts that mix ice cream with cake in hand-sized delectables.

Playing to consumer concerns to limit spending and calories, the move follows a lineup of bite-sized sweets introduced this year by major marketers including Pillsbury, Starbucks and Entenmann's.

"Consumers are nibbling and looking for small snacks," says Brian O'Mara, marketing VP at Baskin-Robbins. "They want snacks indulgent but affordable."

Food gurus say this trend not only has legs — it's also got an appetite for growth. Foodmakers are rolling out these micro-desserts at a record clip, with some 228 mini cakes and pastries hitting shelves over the past five years, reports research firm Datamonitor. More than eight in 10 chefs recently surveyed by the National Restaurant Association dubbed these bite-sized desserts a "hot" trend.

Consumers view minis as the easiest way to shed pounds. In a recent poll, people said they were twice as likely to eat smaller portions than to follow a diet plan, says Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Datamonitor.

Nutritionists are of mixed mind. While mini-desserts have fewer calories, "The trick is not to use this as an excuse to increase dessert consumption," says nutrition guru Kelly Brownell.

Among those in the mix:

•Baskin-Robbins. One Cake Bite costs $2.99 and a box of four fetches $9.99. Flavors: double chocolate, praline caramel, chocolate mint and vanilla blondie. O'Mara thinks the new line can double B-R's cake sales from the current 5% to 10% of units.

•Pillsbury. The company is finding big growth with its first refrigerated dessert line: Sweet Moments. It's a $3.19 bag with a dozen brownie bites, each 60 calories. "Consumers don't want big desserts, but do want little indulgences," says Angela Rassi, marketing manager.

•Starbucks. Since rolling out its Petites two-bite desserts in March, Starbucks has seen such success with the tiny treats that it will extend the line with holiday-themed Petites in November, says spokeswoman Lisa Passe.

•Entenmann's. The baked goods maker rolled out Mini Cakes in chocolate chip, crumb cake and, yes, pound cake.