The days of plain white iced wedding cakes with floral décor are numbered. Most consumers are now asking for sculptured or tiered cakes that tout contemporary designs and sophisticated flavor profiles for both batters and fillings.
Rolled fondant is an increasingly common cake-covering request at supermarket bakeries. Shaped fondant decorations are popular as well.
Retailers must significantly alter their in-store bakery offerings or risk losing shoppers, according to Tony Byington, assistant VP of bakery operations at Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa.
“Consumers love watching all the cake design and competition programs on TV, and they come here asking for cakes that are similar to what they have seen made by advanced cake design professionals on those shows,” Byington told SN. “Many want wedding cakes that are sculpted and have different flavors from tier to tier because they know not everyone will like the same thing. Groomsmen’s cakes are also becoming more popular, not just in the South where they originated.”
Colors have evolved as well, from plain white or off-white icing to a rainbow of pastels and even chocolate frosting, he added.
Of the 200 bakeries owned and operated by Hy-Vee, only a handful currently have cake designers who are qualified to handle more complex orders. But the chain has brought all of its designers together once a year for the past two years for hands-on classes led by the most skilled bakery staffers.
Intermediate and advanced techniques were taught during these sessions. And additional measures are being taken to train employees year-round.
“Three years ago, we created a cake design program at Hy-Vee, teaming up employees with artistic abilities with our most experienced cake designers for six months,” said Byington. “The goal is to take them from beginner designers to intermediate and, ultimately, expert designers.”
At the same time, the supermarket has worked to create its first, chainwide bakery menu, he added.
Along with standard chocolate and vanilla, the menu — expected to be in stores by the end of 2014 — will include new flavors like red velvet, salted caramel and wedding cake. These flavors, among many others, will also be offered to wedding shoppers.
Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market will host a “Whole Wedding” expo from 6 to 9 p.m. on April 16 at its Boca Raton, Fla., location. The free event will include wedding cake tastings, a four-tiered cake display and a lookbook containing examples of custom wedding cakes Whole Foods designers have made.
The expo will also showcase an array of other foods and products commonly used for weddings and receptions from other departments throughout the store, such as floral, prepared foods, seafood, Whole Body, meat and specialty – wine, champagne and cheese.
Jim Hertel, managing partner at consulting firm Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill., suggests that retailers take advantage of the current indulgence trend by recommending cakes in rich flavors, like the Chocolate Lovers’ Delight and Coconut Cream Cheese Fantasy at Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets stores.
“People are thinking about wedding cakes differently than in the past,” he said. “They want to make a big impression by being unique and upscale, and nothing does that better than a display of gourmet cakes in rich flavors, topped with chocolate shavings, whipped cream, fruits and other yummy items. This type of cake just screams ‘indulgence.’”
Indeed, decadent desserts are hot at the moment, agreed Maria Brous, spokesperson for Publix. Shoppers there not only buy such sophisticated sweets for at-home savoring, but for events as formal as weddings as well.
“Some people buy wedding cakes from us that have different flavors and fillings for each layer,” said Brous. “But more and more are ordering a variety of cakes from our Decadent Desserts line to use as centerpieces on tables at their receptions. Or, they set up a cake bar with a bunch of different flavors like our Raspberry Elegance cake, Fruit Filled Brown Derby cake, Carrot Torte and Caramel Pecan Crunch cake and let guests choose which ones they want.”
Publix carries a long list of cakes, like Strawberry and Peach Sensation, Midnight Fudge Fantasy and Latte Blast among others. Along with offering guests different flavors, some brides and grooms add monograms to cakes and cupcakes to make them more personal, said Brous.
Cake decorators are on hand at Publix to take custom cake orders too, with specialists in each store whose job it is to bring in more skilled decorators when necessary.
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“It can be difficult to offer custom work at a supermarket bakery because the more elaborate the designs, the more time it takes to complete the cakes. And employees have to work at a reasonable pace in order to make enough product for all customers,” said Alan Hiebert, senior education coordinator for the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association. “It’s also challenging for retailers to find and keep enough skilled decorators.”
For those supermarkets that can find enough qualified staff, having a more extensive cake offering is a great way to create differentiation between their stores and their competitors’, added Hiebert.
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