Skip navigation

Take the Cake

As with all fresh departments in the supermarket, the in-store bakeries give retailers a chance to shine in the eyes of customers with stellar service, quality products and a variety of offerings. And cakes are a make it or break it category for many of those bakeries. The formula is simple. Cakes make up a large portion of dessert sales for in-store bakeries, contributing approximately 62% to dessert

As with all fresh departments in the supermarket, the in-store bakeries give retailers a chance to shine in the eyes of customers with stellar service, quality products and a variety of offerings. And cakes are a make it or break it category for many of those bakeries.

The formula is simple. Cakes make up a large portion of dessert sales for in-store bakeries, contributing approximately 62% to dessert category sales and 46% to dessert category volume sales in 2008, according to the Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill.

Within the cake category, decorated cakes took 35.9% of dollar sales, dessert cakes took 20.9% and cupcakes and creme or pudding cakes each took up 8.9%.

“Perishable service departments are one of the best ways for stores to differentiate themselves from the competition,” said Alan Hiebert, education information specialist at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association, Madison, Wis.

“Cakes make up nearly one-third of in-store bakery sales,” Hiebert said. “Over a third of cake sales come from decorated cakes, so stores do well to pay attention to their custom cake programs.”

Publix Super Markets believes good service keeps customers loyal to a particular chain or store when purchasing cakes for a special occasion.

“We understand the stress involved in planning for that special day, whether it's a wedding, birthday celebration, graduation, holiday or simply dinner with friends, and we make it easy, convenient and stress-free for our customers,” said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for the Lakeland, Fla.-based retailer.

Brous added that Publix is continually expanding the tools available to help its shoppers select the perfect cake for any occasion.

“Service has always been important to Publix, especially in our service departments. We have trained bakers and bakery apprentices on staff, as well as highly skilled cake decorators. In addition, our website, www.publix.com, Food & Entertaining, allows our customers to customize their cakes and view our selections online. We also provide tips, suggestions on how to order, contact us, and event planning. Customers can come armed with information to their local Publix bakery.”

Similarly, Brookshire Grocery Co. presents its cake offerings through its website to give customers an opportunity to preview their cake choice in advance of talking with one of Brookshire's cake decorators at the store, said John Rose, bakery category manager. He is hopeful that the retailer will be able to provide online cake ordering in the future as an added convenience for customers who prefer that option.

“Quality, value and, as always, personalized service” are key trends shaping the cake category right now,” Rose said.

“Our personalized service along with a quality cake and icing translate to repeat business.”

Of course, giving customers what they want and staying up-to-date with the latest trends are always key parts of good service, and these retailers agreed that single-serve options, smaller cakes and smaller portions continue to be popular options at their bakeries.

“Customers continue to be interested in single-serve portions and in customization, both of which, in my opinion, contribute to the popularity of cupcakes,” Hiebert said.

While cupcakes experienced an explosion in popularity in the last few years, 5-inch cakes seem to be gaining traction more recently as well.

“We have seen our customers continue on the trend with portion control and value for their dollar,” said Brous. “Our 5-inch cakes and jumbo cupcakes have become quite popular with our customers.”

Hiebert said he knows that smaller products are more popular these days.

“With the economy, we see many people substituting less expensive items when it comes to staples, but they still want to splurge occasionally — a 5-inch cake allows for that,” he said.

“It also allows for a family of four to have a small dessert without having leftover cake to eat for the rest of the week — something that calorie-counting adults may appreciate more than sweet-craving kids.”

United Supermarkets just launched a 5-inch cake program that has been “extremely successful,” said Tammy Kampsula, business director of bakery for the Lubbock, Texas-based retailer. She also sees the trend in smaller cakes, but also an emphasis on value when it comes to the larger or specialty cakes.

“Baby Boomers, value shoppers, smaller family size and less disposable income are creating a need for smaller specialty cakes,” Kampsula said.

“We plan to revamp our table cake program and specialty cake program to appeal to the budget-conscious guest or the guest who is looking for smaller portions.”

Brookshire's cake program is also catering to the trend, but with individual slices.

“We've been placing more emphasis on individual cake slices for the ‘on the go’ customer,” said Rose.

“Smaller portions seem to be in vogue, thus, individual slices are ideal for customers wanting a simple dessert without some left over.”

Sales of special occasion cakes peak in the spring, around Mother's Day, Father's Day, spring graduations and Easter, according to the Perishables Group's “2008 State of the Bakery” report. And for each holiday peak, decorated white cakes were the top sellers. Sales hit their lowest point in early December, as many customers were still focused on Thanksgiving pies, the report said.

Hiebert of IDDBA said he sees traditional flavor varieties being the most popular.

“While many new bakery products include non-wheat grains, it seems that customers want traditional cakes,” he said.

“The most popular cake varieties continue to be white, chocolate, yellow and carrot.”

Rose went back to quality and service being the backbone of a successful cake program, even as flavor trends fluctuate.

“While decorations, flavors and so forth tend to run in cycles, personalized service from a professional cake decorator trumps all of that,” Rose said.

“We have some of the best cake decorators in the business, who provide legendary customer service with each individual cake order. I can't say enough about the great job our bakery partners do each and every day.”