Some consumers want the cakes they buy at their local grocery store to be, above all, fun. For others, “elaborate” is the first word that comes to mind. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those looking for “natural.” Bright colors are in for many, as are “luxury” ingredients. Clean label is becoming more and more important. And don’t forget that PHO ban.

In short, it’s not the easiest customer base to keep happy. But icing and fondant suppliers are keeping pace, with new products tailored for a new age.

As a general rule, cake decorators today are looking to create more elaborate, over-the-top designs, says Chef Mark Seaman, specialty applications chef for Barry Callebaut. Because of that, icing and fondants have had to evolve to better fit these larger, time-consuming cakes.

“From a functionality perspective, decorators have been looking for ways to increase working time of fondant before the dreaded elephant skin appears,” Seaman says. “With the continuing trend of novelty shaped cakes, more time is needed to get the fondant over the cake.”

To address those needs, Barry Callebaut’s Mona Lisa fondant was created with a unique blend of fats and starch-free sugar to provide a longer working time with no cracking or tearing, even on shaped cakes, Seaman says. That helps both newer and seasoned decorators alike, he says, because it reduces the stress of covering the cakes in a timely manner and increases the ability to cover even more extreme designs.

“This same fat matrix creates the perfect pliability decorators need to cover over-the-top designs,” Seaman says. “Even when exposed to humid or dry conditions, Mona Lisa’s fondant stands its ground and does not become sticky, tacky or dry.”

The other important aspect of the functionality of fondant, Seaman says, is to provide ways for decorators to create high-impact designs using fewer mediums and techniques. Mona Lisa fondant rolls so thinly, he says, that decorators are using it for techniques that used to be reserved for gum paste, such as quilling.

Elena Taylor, director of wet ingredients for Dawn Foods, says bakers need icings that are easy to use. Very firm icings make it difficult to base a cake or pipe easily, and very soft icing doesn’t hold shapes. “It’s important that icing is designed to be soft and pliable to allow for decoration while still being firm enough to hold designs,” Taylor says.

As consumers continue to demand icings that have great aroma, flavor and visual appeal, bakers must offer consistent and vibrant colors, while also appealing to consumer preferences for taste and smell, Taylor says. “At Dawn, we’re also seeing a big opportunity within the industry when it comes to packaging – bakers are demanding easier to open lids, sustainable packaging and product innovation.” 

As for icings and fondants, Dawn continues to see a trend of bakers being interested in limited time offers (LTO’s), including offerings such as seasonal and holiday flavored buttercreme. “We’ve also seen growing requests for buttercreme style icings that have more butter notes and less sweetness,” Taylor says. “This demand is being driven by consumers’ desire for baked goods with more whipped style toppings that aren’t overly sweet.”  

Color and texture

You can’t talk about cake (especially wedding cake) without mentioning two other crucial elements, Seaman says. “Color and texture are the first two things people take note of when they first see a cake,” he says. “In today’s world, all decorators want to create an ‘Instagram-worthy’ cake that is immediately eye-catching.”

On trend at the moment, Seaman says, are bright, bold colors that not only are more appealing to the eye, but that “pop” on  social media. Proving the point, the 2018 Pantone Color of the Year is ultraviolet.

Keith Appling, chief sales officer for Lawrence Foods Inc., agrees with Seaman that color is about as big as it can be when it comes to cakes. One trend in particular Lawrence is keeping close tabs on is the use of paler, more sophisticated colors that are tailored to particular regions of the country.

Running parallel with increased demand for bright colors is the “black is the new black” concept,  Seaman says. “To best fit current demands and trends, Mona Lisa has been developing a deep black rolled fondant colored only with Barry Callebaut's own black cocoa powder.” The result, he says, is a flavor reminiscent of an Oreo cookie and a black color made with no artificial dyes.

When it comes to other trends, rolled fondant is still, well, on a roll — thanks in no small part, Seaman says, to social media. “Pinterest and Instagram both have a plethora of photos of modern cakes created with rolled fondant,” he says. “This icing opens the creative doors of hand painting and creating textures that aren't possible in other mediums.”

Another trend to keep a close eye on, Seaman says, is the rise of ube. It’s been popular in Asia and Australia for a while, he says, but it’s just starting to catch on in the U.S. The purple-colored yam used in ube is a mellow-flavored root vegetable that can be used in buttercream or filling to get the bright color reminiscent of the aforementioned color of the year, ultraviolet.

“What’s great about ube is that the bright color will never fade, unlike standard dye which will likely lose its brightness after a day or two,” Seaman says.

In contrast to rolled fondant and ube, buttercream cakes created with only buttercream are becoming less prevalent, Seaman says. Instead, companies like Barry Callebaut are seeing an increase in combinations of buttercream with rolled fondant decorations and poured ganache drips.

In addition to color, Lawrence is seeing a lot of interest in new and better flavors, Appling says. “Not only in our flavored icing line, but also with our classic vanilla and chocolate buttercrèmes. There are regional preferences, and we strive to suit our customers – and their consumers.”

State-of-the-art innovation

As part of its ongoing commitment to customer collaboration, Dawn regularly refreshes its consumer trends report and partners with customers to help them meet their consumers’ evolving demands.

To that end, last year Dawn unveiled its latest milestone: a state-of-the-art Innovation Studio in Jackson, Michigan, the company’s home town. “The Dawn Innovation Studio is a place to inspire creativity, encourage innovation and strengthen collaboration,” Taylor says. “As customers continue using our PHO-free products or expand their offerings to include more Dawn products, we encourage customers to use the space and work closely with our team to ensure our customers always bring the best products to consumers and help drive their business forward.”

At the moment, Dawn isn’t tracking too many form-specific icing trends, Taylor says. In fact, the company projects that most of the major types of icings will continue on their current trend paths.

Overall, Taylor says, all icing types are shifting a bit in response to some of the major trends the company has seen throughout all bakery categories, with an increase in icings across-the-board that have the following elements:

  • Increasing relevance of perceived “natural” elements, e.g. cleaner label, more muted color palettes, real botanical or fruit components;
  • Continued relevance of luxury/special elements, e.g. sophisticated flavors like alcohol, component ingredients with interesting/special provenance, global flavor influences;
  • Fun elements, e.g. nostalgic, artsy, creative or mash-up elements; and
  • Light and airy options

“Today, consumers want products made with real ingredients that also taste great,” Taylor says. “In response, bakers want to create the cakes, brownies, donuts and other signature treats their customers love while also maintaining the quality and consistency their business is known for.”

In response, in October Dawn will launch several new clean label icing and buttercreme products, including buttercreme style icing (chocolate, white, cream cheese) and donut icings (white and chocolate). 


The United States Food and Drug Administration’s  partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) ban, which went into effect in June, was never an obstacle for Barry Callebaut’s Mona Lisa rolled fondant, Seaman says.

“When our team first began developing the formulation of the product, we consciously chose to avoid partially hydrogenated fats and artificial ingredients,” he says. “These choices allowed us to launch a clean product with a very short ingredient list. Decorators and their customers can be assured that the icing they are eating is 100 percent GRAS (generally recognized as safe).”

Dawn began the process of removing PHOs from its products more than four years ago, Taylor says.  More than 900 products had to be reformulated. “Throughout the PHO removal process, functionality was the most important attribute we examined when choosing PHO alternatives,” Taylor says. “We were committed to finding substitutes that were as close to the original product as possible for our customers and didn’t interrupt their normal baking processes.”

Although Dawn has eliminated all PHO from its offerings, Taylor says, the company is still working with its suppliers on new ingredient options for improved functionality, performance, flavor and cost.  “Without their full support and diligence, this entire process would have taken much longer. We were fortunate to have partners that cared just as much about the end product as we do. The journey to be completely PHO-free was not easy.”

Lawrence Foods is also adapting to the new PHO-free world, Appling says. “We’ve developed some very solid product reformulations. But since this is an area of rapid industry evolution, we will keep our development team engaged in reviewing new product offerings as we continue to move forward.”