Snacking and eating on-the-go have become a huge area of opportunity as consumers’ schedules continue to be flexible.

“We’ve seen an increase in the selection of grab-and-go options in the industry, including better-for-you and higher quality offerings,” said Alyssa Barrett, customer marketing manager - convenience, Rich Products, Buffalo, N.Y. “We continue to innovate and introduce new grab-and-go options for consumers focusing on on-trend options like globally inspired options, new twists on old favorites and fully finished, ready-to-serve classics.”

Jay Jade, marketing manager—Dawn Portfolio, points out that while nostalgic vanilla and chocolate flavors always remain popular with consumers, fruity and tropical flavors such as lemon and strawberry dominate, as well.

“At Dawn, we are seeing consumers continually being attracted to interesting flavor combinations that put a twist on traditional cake flavors,” Jade said.

From Dawn’s 2023 Global Bakery Trends, research found that more consumers are becoming mindful of the products they eat and how they affect their personal health, community, and planet. This is leading them to seek authentic and healthy foods, including baked goods. Dawn Foods continues to create better-for-you options, including vegan, for cake mixes and butter crème, as well as offering many custom formulations to customers.

As days get shorter and the leaves begin to change, it is the time of year people reach for comfort food. There is nothing more comforting than caramel classics, according to Lawrence Foods. Caramel is the No. 3 dessert flavor on restaurant menus. According to Datassentials MenuTrends, it is second only to chocolate and vanilla.

Caramel is the perfect complement to a variety of flavors. Pair it with chocolate or vanilla to make a decadent dessert. The richness and sweetness of caramel balances the crisp acidity of fruits such as apples and pears.

Lawrence Foods offers a variety of innovative products to make these creative ideas happen, including Caramel Spread-N-Ice®, Caramel Ice-N-Set®, Baker’s Caramel, and Caramel Decocrèmes Icing.

Dawn’s Jade points out that fall is a great time to transition into warm flavors and colors.

“Some trends we are seeing are built off the inspiration of the season and the colors outside changing. Fall-themed decorations can be highlighted with cooler icing tones, like blue, and complemented with traditional fall flavors like pumpkin. Other trends are inspired by fall activities brought to life through applications. One of our favorites is a candy corn cupcake with bright colorful buttercream icing. Use the season as inspiration to get creative in cake decorating.”

Hispanic influences

The popularity of Hispanic flavors is growing. Rich’s offers a vast Hispanic Portfolio, so retailers, restaurants, and foodservice operations can offer wide varieties. Rich’s Hispanic offerings span everything from tres leches and portioned desserts, to bakery items and traditional Rosca ring breads.

Others are witnessing key developments of this important trend.

“Currently, there’s a notable influx of Hispanic influences in cake trends, featuring lighter fruity and tropical flavors,” said Dan Moats, master baker at Stratas. “Alongside this, a continuing trend involves blending sweet and savory elements, resulting in intriguing flavor fusions.”

Elegant presentation has swept into the decorated cake business with a zestful flurry. No longer are customers satisfied with a simple cake with just frosting. They crave multiple flavors and creative decorations that are eye-catching and make a bold statement.

A wide variety of cake flavors are featured at Araceli’s Bakery in Lexington, Ken., where owner Jonathan Cervantes points out that offering numerous choices ensures that you maximize your appeal to customers. The bakery offers up to 10 flavors of tres leches cakes, which are offered as 8-inch cakes, 12-inch cakes or individual slices. Flavors include mocha, strawberry, pecan, cheese, caramel, fruit medley, Oreo, pineapple and peach. Customers can also order a variety of sizes of flan or chocoflan: cup, small, large or heart shape.

“People like different flavors, so we make sure that everyone has different options,” Cervantes said.

Troubleshooting on the bench 

Attending to often-overlooked details like specific gravity and batter temperatures is crucial, according to Moats at Stratas. Proper aeration during mixing is really important.

“Many bakers I meet boast that they have an incredible product, but we often find tunnels in the crumb during a cutting,” Mott said. “Even some professionals don’t realize that this creates uneven grain and toughness. Additionally, maintaining optimal batter temperatures is key for leavening systems, particularly when working with temperature-sensitive double-acting baking powder. Besides affecting leavening timing, proper temperatures aid batter aeration during mixing, potentially reducing mix times to achieve the desired specific gravity. It’s all connected.”

Many bakeries are using mixes requiring the addition of oil, Moats said.

“Our Nutex (emulsified cake oil) is a great product to help increase perceived moisture and assist with moisture retention. This means longer shelf life. However, be careful about excessive moisture in the cakes. There is a line where the final product can become mushy. We want to keep the integrity of the crumb intact while offering a moist delightful cake that has a good shelf life.”

High-impact flavor is important. The correct oil/ shortenings really help with the flavor delivery in terms of how our mouth processes the flavors, he added. A shortening with a high melting point or heavy vegetable notes can throw these desired flavor notes off.

Dawn’s Jade offers some helpful tips for producing the best cakes. Dawn’s Exceptional® Baker’s Request™ Cake Mixes consistently deliver moist, high-quality cakes that can reduce waste (with no doming or tunneling), a differentiator from cakes from other bakeries.

The Baker’s Request mix has a tight crumb structure, which retains moisture and delivers a better eating experience. It also lets the cakes bake flat with higher sidewalls for less waste and easy decorating.

“Making visually attractive cakes is just as important as the flavor,” Jade said. “This can be done by adding sprinkles, glitter, glazes and more to add the finishing touch to cakes.”

Jade emphasizes that the most important thing for in-store bakeries to remember when using icing for decorating is finding the correct texture and consistency. For example, butter crème icings are formulated to be soft and pliable for piping while also holding design. Whipped icings have a creamy texture while giving a visual appeal. Flat icings are also a great solution for the labor challenges many instore bakeries are facing because of their time-saving ease of use. 

“As we lead into an incredibly busy time of year for bakeries, being able to get offerings easily and quickly in the case will be top of mind to capture the sale,” Jade said. “Ready to use butter creme icings are a great way to save on labor versus mixing from scratch. Dawn’s butter crème icings give you the best of both worlds, being specially formulated to be soft and pliable to allow for piping and decorating while still being firm enough to hold designs.”

Shopper trends

Speaking during an Aug. 18 online presentation from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA), presenters Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, and Jonna Parker, principal, fresh foods, at Circana, reviewed the latest dairy, deli, and bakery trends report. In this webinar, the hosts shared the performance drivers and key takeaways of July’s performance, as well as how the bakery and other perishables departments fared in the context of fresh foods and food and beverage at large.

The perimeter cake category performed relatively well during the July 2023 sales period when the cake category climbed 5.3% vs. year ago in dollar sales for the category, according to data shared during the webinar. For the latest 52 weeks ending July 31, 2023, the cake category posted an 8.5% increase in dollar sales, reaching $5.5 billion in dollar sales for the 52 weeks.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2023 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Cakes feature and more in the digital edition here.