Fashion and mainstream style are influencing bakery designs. With manufacturers help, in-store bakeries should be able to keep up.
Many argue it was Sex in the City’s Carrie Bradshaw digging into a cupcake from the Magnolia Bakery that triggered the still-growing dessert boom. Others attribute it to the dozens of reality and competitive baking shows that have taken over The Food Network and other cooking channels. Still others say it was just time for a revolution. Whatever the trigger, innovations in the baked goods segment continue to amaze consumers—and if there is one thing people never seem to tire of, it is sweet treats.
The evolution of cake designs, flavors and decorating styles seen on television and coming out of independent bakeries are pushing the in-store bakery to pick up the pace. Lucky for them, manufacturers are on board and their creative teams are not slowing down. Innovative concepts have transformed the in-store bakery from a counter of white fluffy cakes with sugar roses to an array of urbane designs and unique color combinations that look like they came straight out of a culinary museum.
“With all the cake shows on TV, people are expecting more unique, upscale designs,” says Tim Bratland, vice president of Anoka, Minn.-based DecoPac. “Consumers want designs that are on trend and energetic; they want it to feel contemporary and current.”
In the search for inspiration, manufacturers are looking outside the category. Consumers are bombarded with design elements from all categories, say industry observers. In order to maintain consumer appeal, cake designs have to compare to what consumers are seeing on the fashion runway, on interior design products and in crafts.
“Historically, decorated cakes had a white base icing and maybe a colored border or flowers, but recent studies around cake designs found that shoppers prefer them without borders on top. It leaves a cleaner look,” says Deanne McDonell, senior marketing manager for customer/shopper at Rich Products Corp. based in Buffalo, N.Y. “We were overdecorating the cake so instead of putting the traditional three roses on top we tried just a few larger flowers and it was perceived as being fresh and different.”
It could be as easy as incorporating different flowers, such as a Gerber Daisy instead of a rose, or reversing the color scheme and using a colored base icing with a complementary white border, McDonell adds. “A lot of new current innovation is not new to the world of flavors or designs. It is about presenting something familiar in a different way, creating something familiar with a twist.”
This is the concept behind Rich Products’ new icing varieties, which were inspired by flavors popular in other forms of dessert, ice cream and even cosmetics. The new tastes include S’mores Whipped and Birthday Party icing, and Ice Cream Cupcakes, which are cupcakes filled with ice cream and topped with whipped topping. “S’mores are something nostalgic for a lot of people—and here they are presented in an entirely new way.”
J. Skinner Baking Co.’s latest dessert line also plays off nostalgia in a fresh way. The Omaha, Neb.-based company recognized an interest in retro flavors and created a unique program that capitalizes on the concept of limited edition flavors to maintain consumer interest. The baker incorporates popular retro flavor combinations into its 100 layer Danish to create varieties such as Chocolate Bananarama, Butterscotch Bon Bon, Orchard Orange Marmalade and Triple Berry Crunch. The targeted varieties are then only made available for a brief, rotating, two-month timeframe.
“By removing the varieties from the market after two months, we keep both trade and consumer interest high. When they return to the bakery shelves, following the hiatus, there is a genuine excitement,” says Gary G. Kyle, vice president of marketing.
Kids’ designs are also seeing a shift as bright primary colors and decorations flood the market. Known for its array of cake toppers and decorations featuring kids’ cartoon characters, DecoPac is adding more sophisticated edible options to its offerings, such as fondant dots and shimmery lucent balls. “People are putting them all over the cakes and having a lot of fun with them,” says Bratland.
Bratland emphasizes the significance of adding these new styles into the product mix without replacing traditional looks. “Retailers should understand its important to keep some of the tried and true designs—flowers and characters, for example—but they need to add in contemporary looks to the display case to grab consumers attention,” he says. “They need to embrace newer designs and be forward facing if they want to grow impulse sales.”
Impulse purchases are a big portion of in-store bakery sales. The in-store bakery has to work twice as hard as independents to build a reputation as a destination stop, say industry observers, adding it is special occasions that drive trips to the bakery counter. Those occasions have grown beyond birthdays and anniversaries to include everything from dance recitals to job promotions to dinner parties.
This is one of the biggest trends, say observers, noting that retailers who capitalize on these additional merchandising occasions have a real opportunity for incremental sales. These celebrations usually call for smaller cakes, such as 8-inch round cakes or bar cakes, and a wider variety of decoration. “DecoPac is coming up with a lot more designs geared for these types of smaller celebrations. Some are festive; others say ‘congrats’ or ‘good job,’” says Bratland.
This is when McDonell’s “familiar with a twist” concept comes into play again. She says shoppers do not want to trial something unheard of when they are entertaining. They want a dessert that will sound appealing to everyone sitting around the table. “People will be a lot more adventurous when they are eating out and they are the only one eating the dessert they order. But at home when they are pleasing others, they want a wow factor that everyone will enjoy,” she says.
Sales aside, these evolving trends are creating a contradictory obstacle for bakers in store—finding time. The cleaner, simpler looks tend to be quicker to make, say manufacturers, but as bakers continue to offer more variety and constantly update their designs, learning new techniques eats up labor.
DecoPac is trying to address these concerns by offering quick and easy instructions as well as demo the designs via video. “People are watching Cupcake Wars and other shows and want these really cool designs but bakeries often don’t have decorators trained to do that. As a supplier, it is our job to make sure we are providing the decorations and tools necessary so a decorator can recreate these ideas,” says Bratland.
Many retailers are addressing time constraints by purchasing thaw-and-sell and par-baked options. According to Cathy Meyer, the in-store bakery channel marketing manager at General Mills, based in Minneapolis, “unit sales of thaw-and-sell and finished products are up about 3%, specifically in the brownie, cupcake, donut, biscuit and muffin categories.”
Thaw-and-sell and par-baked products offer a solution that goes unnoticed by consumers, say observers. Many are formulated to taste just like scratch-products.
J. Skinner’s thaw-and-sell program aims to provide retailers with a quality and variety that is equivalent to the corner bake shop, says Kyle. “Quality is something we never compromise on. Our products arrive frozen and are shelf ready after a quick thaw, most with a seven to 10 day shelf life.
“We plan to stay on the cutting edge, always ahead of competition and out in front of emerging consumer trends,” he adds. The company has a host of new products to introduce over the coming year.
Branding the bakery
Profit margins are reported to be at the top of the bakery department’s list of struggles, say industry observers, and national brands are trying to help.
Many in-store bakeries are stocking branded products to attract additional traffic from consumers who may be further swayed by a logo. For example, General Mills launched a retail-ready package of Brownie Bites. The package of 12 bite-sized brownies is sold under the Pillsbury brand and has seen tremendous success, says Cathy Meyer, the in-store bakery channel marketing manager at General Mills, based in Minneapolis. “Retailers are using brands in the bakery in two ways. First, they are offering national brands to provide products that are too labor intensive to make in the bakery. Secondly, retailers are branding product with their store brand, offering fresh, in-store offerings and signature items that help build their reputation.”
Another brand entering the in-store bakery arena is Duncan Hines. The brands’ Professional line of cake mixes was developed in response to bakers’ requests for Duncan Hines mixes in bulk. Turns out many professional bakers were using the retail mixes, and while they love the signature flavor and moistness, they did want a few changes, says Julie Bowman, director of food service for Duncan Hines. “They wanted to ensure the cake structure would allow them to do the sculpting, layers and design consumers have come to expect, so we made changes to the formulas to allow for improved handleability.” Available in 50-pound bags, the line includes White, Devil’s Food and Yellow cake mixes.
Pinnacle Foods Corp., based in Parsippany, N.J., and owner of Duncan Hines, is hoping the brand will help bakery sales and provide retailers with POS materials that say “proudly baking with the finest ingredients from Duncan Hines Professional” for bakery counters. “Aligning themselves with meaningful brands that already have credibility with consumers can help retailers differentiate themselves,” says Bowman. “Displaying signage in the in-store bakery sets an expectation with the consumer that the sake they bring home will be moist and delicious.”