Meet consumers where they are 

Category Revitalization: Synonymous with celebration and gatherings, cakes are poised for a great year with the long-anticipated return to in-person gatherings and celebrations. As life picks up speed again, consumers will return to the instore in search of fresh options, said Eric Richard, industry relations coordinator, IDDBA, Madison, Wis.  

“We’re seeing some improvement in most of the bakery categories, and we’re due for a market that’s going to revert back to where it was,” Richard said. “I think we’ll see a reset for instore bakery products, including cake, with more people gathering and more in-person occasions.” 

Mintel predicts products made for safe sharing, including those in portion control packaging, will find favor for both safety and convenience. Seventy-four percent of respondents said they mostly prefer to buy products with packaging that will protect the contents from contamination, and another 62% said it’s more important to protect food hygiene than it is to minimize plastic packaging and waste.  

Industry Outlook: An increase in foot traffic in supermarkets over the last year has led to some consumers discovering or re-discovering the instore bakery as an alternative for other bakery locations they’ve considered before, said Sarah Hickey, senior director consumer insights, Dawn Foods, Jackson, Mich. 

“This is an opportunity to wow consumers with the quality of instore bakery cakes and to showcase new and innovative items,” she said. “Retailers that take advantage of this opportunity will see continued growth even post-pandemic.” 

Acknowledging the stronger competition this year as a result of the at-home baking boom and increased penetration of packaged treats, Gretchen Hadden, marketing manager, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, North America, Minneapolis, recommended the instore bakery space prepare to continue delivering innovative and novelty flavors in pandemic-friendly formats to win with consumers.   

Variety and Interest: With smaller gatherings becoming the norm for the foreseeable future, Stratas Foods, Memphis, Tenn., forecasted opportunity around build-your-own cakes made of single servings. To help bakers adjust to smaller sizes, Roger Daniels, Stratas’s vice president of research, development, innovation and quality, recommended making cakes unique, using oversized toppers, bright colors and texture contrasts.  

Embrace the pivot 

Streamlining Production: Fewer large-sized gatherings have led to calls to accommodate smaller sizes and smaller counts. Over the past year, Unifiller, Delta, B.C., has offered new developments to streamline dessert production. Its RP depositor finishes mini cupcake bites with buttercream frosting and sprinkles at 15+ across. Unifiller’s Pro and Multistation depositors with a custom cupcake head can finish eight cupcakes at a time, and its robotic module can finish six, eight or 12 cupcakes in shell packaging. Dawn Foods suggested gourmet cupcakes as another way to meet trends for customization and cravings for small indulgences. 

Industry Outlook: “Bakers can meet consumers where they are by offering more premium, higher-priced offerings like smaller cake sizes, individually wrapped items and increasing the amount of smaller baked goods like cupcakes,” Hickey said. “Leveraging the increased consumer demand for smaller cakes and other baked goods, combined with other item sales, can help offset the decline in purchases of bigger items such as half and quarter-sheet cakes.” 

Easy Comfort: Although the trend of at-home dining is predicted to continue for some time, consumers returning to offices and kids to classrooms will seek out convenient, quality breakfast and snack items that make life simpler and their families happier. Smaller, on-the-go mini sizes will also find favor as consumers again focus on ease of use, quick consumption and portion control. Comfort foods like coffee cakes satisfy this desire perfectly, according to Jayne Kearney, director of marketing, Bake’n Joy Foods, Andover, Mass. 

Tempting indulgence 

Managing Life: Downsized baked foods also offer an opportunity for indulgence among consumers who seek to temper the ongoing ups and downs of life. As consumers begin venturing back to stores, there will be additional browsing opportunities to satisfy these cravings with impulse buys of individual-sized treats. 

Industry Outlook: “Indulgence remains the top driver for shoppers purchasing cakes, but given today’s emphasis on healthy eating, many are looking for ways to mitigate the guilt,” said Jamie Mavec, marketing manager, Cargill. “These smaller sized formats allow consumers to indulge in a sweet treat but with fewer calories and less sugar. It’s the best of both worlds: an indulgent eating experience without the guilt.” 

On the flip side of indulgence, Cargill anticipates ongoing concerns around health and immunity will find consumers gravitating towards flavors that cue function, such as berries or botanicals. The trend of Enlightened Eating, as coined by Dawn Foods, shows consumers are willing to pay more for food that is cleaner and free of additives and artificial ingredients. Twenty-nine percent of those surveyed indicated that the changes they made in their purchasing behaviors to focus more on healthy products would last for six months or more, and 43% plan to continue purchasing wellness products after the pandemic is over.  

Choose Ingredients Wisely: In cakes and icings, fat plays a critical role, impacting everything from structure development and tenderness to emulsification and aeration. Cargill’s PalmAgility bakery shortenings offer superior performance on all critical functional roles, enabling bakers to create uber-indulgent treats. 

Familiar flavors, new combinations 

Flavor Spectrum: Dawn Foods identified chocolate cake and cupcakes continuing to be the top flavor amongst all cakes/cupcake flavors, according to Nielsen, POS Sweet Bakery. On front-of-package claims, indulgent textures such as creamy, moist and soft lead new product launches. 

While traditional chocolate and vanilla make up 30% of new products in the category over the last five years, there’s been a 41.5% growth in coffee- and cinnamon-flavored blended cakes over the same time period, according to Innova Market Insights.  

Nostalgic flavors with modern, premium twists are also finding appeal such as an elevated take on s’mores in the form of double dark chocolate with a brown sugar graham cracker crumble. Dawn Foods forecasted a path of premiumization and adventure with choices taking inspiration from other favorites such as Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel, Banana Split, Pina Colada and Pink Lemonade.    

With retailers looking to extend the sales success of traditional fall and holiday coffee cake flavors throughout the entire year on an in-out rotational basis, Bake’n Joy has added several new spring/summer seasonal flavors such as Lemon, Blueberry and Peach to its lineup of private label coffee cakes.  

Industry Outlook: Richard of IDDBA recommended offering consumers options, particularly those looking for specific health attributes. Knowing not every consumer is the same, this could include an allergen- or gluten-free option or a purely indulgent offering using bright pops of icing and sprinkles. Daniels of Stratus Foods predicted growing demand for more “adult” flavor combinations that feature bitter chocolate offset by other sweet components or boozy flavors added to existing or familiar products.  

“The demand for higher quality designs has increased, and people want the cakes they see on Instagram and Pinterest,” he said. “It’s also never been easier for a baker to obtain the tools or the skills needed to make these more interesting designs.”  

Professional Upgrade: Bakers looking to add a special touch to cakes and other baked goods can create mass-print small cake decorations, confections, garnishes and larger statement pieces using the Brill 3D Culinary Studio from Brill, a CSM Bakery Solutions Company, Tucker, Ga. Powered by 3D Systems, the 3D printing system allows chefs and bakers to create precise color blocks, edges and curved surfaces. 

Social sharable 

Industry Outlook: The ability to pique consumer interest in the coming months could come in the form of cake products made with high-quality ingredients that deliver indulgence and a unique experience; something a consumer can brag about, predicted JoAnn Rupp, global insights marketing manager, biobased ingredients, Corbion, Lenexa, Kan.  

Continuing safety measures will also find consumers doing more research and planning before buying in the cake categories, she said. 

“As a result, we’re seeing more people stumbling on ideas and/or recipes that they can bake themselves or request from a specialty baker for a celebration.” 

Design trends: Inspired by 1970s shag carpet, shag cakes feature fuzzy-textured buttercream that uses piping to make the color palette pop. Stiff buttercream creates a shorter, spiky texture, and thinner buttercream creates a longer, shaggier look. 

Stripes in all forms continue to be a crowd pleaser, and cake combs create perfectly spaced stripes by carving out ridges to pipe in another color of choice.  

Natural and abundant, cakes featuring cascades of color and flavor are accented with real, rolled paper and sugar flowers, succulents, berries, branches and flower buds.  

The Next Chapter: Throughout the food and beverage space, there’s growing interest around products with compelling stories, especially those narratives built around responsible sourcing, sustainability and traceability. To bring those initiatives to life, Cargill is developing supply chains that can deliver on consumer demands for transparency and sustainability. In the oils space, the company is one of the largest suppliers of RSPO-segregated palm oil in North America. 

To adjust to emerging trends, Sonia Bal, director of marketing for Unifiller, recommended bakers conduct regular market research.  

“Participating in social listening, paying attention to what competitors are doing and what customers want can help bakers successfully deliver quality products that fit market needs and stay ahead of the curve.”