KANSAS CITY, MO. - As simpler times in the food world prevail, the bakery sector must engage in thoughtful planning and promotions that drive convenience and value over extravagant luxury, experts in the bakery sector agree.

For fresh bakery random weight bakery products in supermarkets, cake sales are down 15.8% from pre-COVID 19 levels but cookie sales are up 12.2%, said Jonna Parker, fresh foods market research expert with IRI. “The need for large cakes is down,” she said. “But cookies – purchased and fresh open – are very different. There are great opportunities for Father’s Day, July Fourth, and summer promotions.”

One surefire tactic: Engage customers with new and simple-to-execute ideas. Satin Ice offers a prime example with its online series of tutorials. For example, glitter glaze Bundt cake made from fondant and buttercream glitter glaze from Satin Ice is simple to prepare. Drizzle glitter glaze on top of each mini Bundt cake before adding decorative sugar flowers.

In addition, Brill makes decorating simple, and Brill DecoPro ready-to-use decorating bags prefilled with flavorful buttercreme offers tremendous convenience for cake decorators of all ranges.

What is crystal clear moving forward is that supermarket operators are adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis that has presented both cautionary steps and creative opportunities. Online ordering, for example, is surging.

“We have learned quite a bit as we’ve managed the +20X increase in online ordering and we really do appreciate all of the kind words you’ve said to our associates,” wrote Gary Pfeil, chief executive officer and president of 16-store Busch’s Fresh Food Market in Michigan, in a blog post from the chain. “We are committed to improving the process and the feedback that has been provided will help us make improvements and provide a better experience for all of our guests.”

Likewise, “we’re seeing an increase in our e-commerce business and expect that demand will continue to grow,” said Deana Percass, director of public relations for 101-store Wegmans Food Markets in Rochester, N.Y.

Rethinking marketing

Moving forward, Parker of IRI says that perimeter departments are wise to engage customers with nontraditional marketing techniques.

“Bakery is often about impulse, and this is really a movement where retailers have an opportunity to rethink products and promotions.,” Parker said. “In the post-COVID 19 era, consumers will look at portion size and other factors. We can play a role that we haven’t before.”

Melissa Trimmer, senior bakery application chef at Dawn Foods, points out that as we head into summer and warmer weather, we start to see a shift to brighter colors, such as corals, scarlet, violet, cornflower, saffron and bright orange.

“We are also seeing a rise in individual desserts, ‘bake-and-take’ and ‘take-and-decorate’ offerings, and small custom cakes,” she said. “While it may look a little different this year, there are still many reasons for consumers to celebrate – including graduations, weddings and the Fourth of July – which provides opportunities for bakery decorators to put their personal twists on these products.”

At a time when most Americans are staying healthy at home, the trend for comfort food has never been more evident, explains Kathleen Debus, technical service representative for Lawrence Foods.

“The anticipation for summer’s fresh fruit pastries and desserts has families eagerly sourcing the Internet for tasty recipes using strawberries, peaches, blueberries, apples and more” she said. “As the warmth of summer and blue skies beckon, bright red strawberries peek out under a panoply of beautifully ruffled green leaves and peaches ripen. The promise of orchard fresh nutrition comforts family and friends as they share the enjoyment of delicious fruit creations at parties and celebrations.”

The supermarket decorated cake business is poised to shine with decorated cakes that are imaginative but, perhaps, less extravagant. What are some great ideas moving forward?

“We are starting to see supermarket bakery decorators create simpler and cleaner designs, especially with buttercream-style icings, which make cakes stand out without complicated decorating steps,” Trimmer said. “Blending colors is another simple way to decorate buttercream cakes. Decorators can swirl colors into the icing or mix colors in a bag and pipe it on in simple swirls. It looks upscale and fancy but takes significantly less time than other decorations.”

To help cake decorators meet their needs, Dawn offers customers five different colors of Naturally Brilliant Buttercreme style icing and a mixing guide that shows customers how to use the five original colors to create 14 different colors and hundreds of shades – including peach, teal and violet.

In other new ideas, “as people proactively address their health in a more holistic and personalized manner, we are seeing more consumers choose plant-based milks, probiotics and vegan offerings– a trend Dawn refers to as Enlightened Eating,” Trimmer said. “To meet this trend, Dawn offers a line of Naturally Brilliant Buttercreme style icings and flat icings with colors sourced from plants or fruits and/or vegetables.”

Inventive floral designs

While floral designs are not new to the baking space, supermarket bakeries are starting to see these designs grow into a larger trend as a fun way to add color to a treat while showing a bakery decorator’s creativity.

One simple floral idea Dawn recommends to customers is flowerpot cupcakes, where a decorator adds flower petals to the top of a cupcake and places it in a cupcake carrier that looks like the bottom of a plant pot.

This type of decorating uses a unique piping tool called “Russian Tips” that makes gorgeous flowers in a fraction of the time needed compared to decorating with conventional flower tips – making them both trendy and budget-friendly.

Return to humble roots

Whether tastes run from delicately fashioned strawberry pavlovas to humble peach pies, Lawrence Foods can help fashion everything from fruit-filled cakes to lusciously filled donuts, cookies and decadent Danish pastries, said Debus of Lawrence Foods. Discerning customers have become their most loyal champions.

“With the return to homemade, neighbors and friends long for wholesome, refreshing desserts. Pies piled high with delicate apples or multitudes of deliciously ripe strawberries take center stage under slices of warm cheddar cheese or sugary lattice crusts. Sparsely iced ‘naked’ cakes with lemon or key lime filling combined with thick and inviting strawberry or blueberry preserves make tea time something to relish,” Debus said. “For purists and those who desire simpler offerings there’s nothing tastier or more rewarding than the quintessential strawberry shortcake, complete with a delicate sponge, deliciously ripe strawberry compote and a swirl of rich whipped cream. “

The size of cakes and desserts are another factor to consider, moving forward.

“In this current era of social distancing, we are seeing a trend in smaller portions sizes and single-served treats. This is true for many bakery treats, but particularly for cakes,” Trimmer said. “Many bakers are switching to single-serve cupcakes or smaller cakes – like 4-inch rounds or 8x8 squares – so people can treat themselves without worrying about wasting the leftovers. Although portions may be smaller, cake designs can still be bright and elaborate. We’ve shared many recipes with our customers that reflect this trend, such as Summer Macaroon Cupcakes.”

Another trend, according to Dawn, is bakers moving away from cake pops to elaborate cake popsicles. These single-serve treats are replacing large, decorated cakes and sometimes accompany a smaller decorated cake as part of a dessert table. Dessert tables often follow a specific theme and showcase multiple miniature bakery treats.

“One of the key trends we are seeing in cakes is what Dawn refers to as ‘Mashup Mania,’ where bakers create unique pairings of food textures, forms and flavors around the world. Not only do flavor matchups reflect a growing sense of individualism and nonconformity, but they also help a bakery stand out to those in search of the next new dessert,” Trimmer said.

In summer 2019, Dawn partnered with several bakers to introduce three new and delicious cake flavors: coffee, coconut and honey. While these flavors may seem relatively simple, Dawn Foods is now seeing its customers pair these flavors with unique and cake flavor fusions, such as coconut German chocolate, latte with Nutella® and honey banana crème.

Dawn Foods helps supermarkets stand out through cake decorating tips, new recipes and product innovations supported by consumer trends and insights. Dawn offers free resources on its website, including a cake decorating guide. Dawn also offers a full recipe catalog with simple to execute, tested recipes for every in-store bakery, including donuts, cookies, cakes, pies and tarts.

This story appeared in the June 2020 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Check out the full June magazine here.