A wave of innovation sweeping the sweet bakery market includes a revival of old classics, the rise of the individual portion, and new dining occasions to enjoy them. Rosie Birkett examines how suppliers are making the most of the sweet-toothed consumer
You'd have had to have had your face buried in a blancmange for the past couple of years not to notice that the world of sweet bakery has stepped up a gear. From style sections to catering catalogues, we've seen cupcakes, macaroons and whoopie pies taking their share of the limelight, and have felt a buzz around high-profile pâtissiers like Pierre Herme and Claire Clark opening up shop in London.
While these specialist, high-end trends are turning consumer heads, not every operator has the resources for their own speciality pastry chef or baker. But luckily products such as mixes, ready-made, part-baked and from-frozen options are supplying operators with increased innovation to help capture a sweet-toothed audience.
So what are the hottest trends? For Parry Hughes-Morgan, managing director of the Handmade Cake Company, the shift towards individual cakes, triggered by the cupcake revival of the past couple of years, is still the most significant development.
"The move has been into individual, smaller cakes, famously cupcakes, but anything that comes as an individual cake," he says. "The other one is flow-wrapped products. It's the same phenomenon of individual portions, so there's less wastage, less personal involvement from the operator and it's more convenient. People want things made easy for them. Individualising things makes it easier without cheapening it, and this is where the interest is coming from."
Hughes-Morgan cites the influence of the USA and reveals that in January he'll be selling whoopie pies (individual cakes that are a cross between a meringue, a sponge and a biscuit, with a sweet filling). "Whoopies started in America and came from the Amish community, who liked them because they were easy to pack in a lunchbox and take to the fields - so they have this nice story attached to them. Will they last as long as cupcakes? No; I think they have about one to two years of life [in the UK] because unlike cupcakes they don't have that childhood connection."
The visual appeal of small, individually-iced cakes is also key, and the trend is towards colourful sweet goods. "People want colour. There's a move towards bright icing, white chocolate and yogurt toppings. Our best-sellers are cupcakes iced with yellow, pink and purple," says Hughes-Morgan.
It would indeed seem that we are looking to the USA for inspiration, with even French brand Delice de France launching a range of whoopie pies earlier this year.
Staying on the theme of colour, Macphie has launched a "red velvet" cake and muffin mix designed to engage with this latest consumer trend. The vampy red cakes have a subtle chocolate flavour and moist crumb, often offset by bright frosting. "Red velvet is new and exciting," says Machphie's Jania Boyd, "and is ideal for making eye-catching muffins, cupcakes, whoopie pies and celebration cakes."
Bakehouse's Kate Raison says consumers are looking for affordable luxury. "Bakehouse's consumer research has revealed that there is demand for indulgent pastries, such as those found in high-end pâtisseries and bakeries, but at an affordable price," she says. She explains the appeal of the brand's Patisse range. "As the majority of caterers do not have the specialist pâtisserie skills, time or resources in-house to produce such products, Bakehouse offers Patisse - a range of fully baked pastries that are supplied frozen, featuring handcrafted shapes, vibrant fruit fillings and whole fruit toppings. The range is proving popular with coffee shops and hotels to add value to the coffee and breakfast menus."
John McKears of pastry supplier Jus-Rol Professional agrees that affordability is key, and predicts that value for money will remain an important part of sweet bakery. "Value for money is essential to making your baked goods offering a success," he says. "Now more than ever customers need to feel that the price they're paying is worth it. Value can be achieved by reviewing the quality of your baked goods; for instance, freshly-made products using local ingredients will always have high appeal and give an upmarket feel, and therefore justify a premium price."
While little pleasures and indulgence (as single portions or mini bites) are key, baker Erlenbacher believes health credentials are growing in importance. "Clean labelling will be a major trend in the future and it will be a challenge for companies to balance the indulgence and health aspects without compromising the quality, taste, consistency and appearance of the products," predicts managing director Bernhard Neumeister.
MAKE THE MOST OF FESTIVE OCCASIONS
Isabelle Davis, 3663: "With Christmas just weeks away, it's important that caterers are equipped with the right mix of bakery products, at an attractive price. Consumers are very savvy when it comes to what's hot and what's not. Fads like whoopie pies and cupcakes are great for other times of the year, but it's important to keep some tradition in your festive menus.
"For example, Greenhalghs' handmade stollen uses a traditional Austrian recipe, supplied in individually-wrapped portions (in packs of 48 x 75g.) Or offer Sargents' warm traditional mince pies with cream to give customers a festive feeling (delivered in packs of 12 x 6 pies.)"
Becky Hornabrook, Crantock Bakery: "Our Christmas Pudding & Custard Parcel has been available since the start of November and reflects our increasing move towards creating products that reflect the seasonal availability of ingredients and tastes.
"I think there's going to be much more focus placed on the provenance of ingredients - both in terms of quality and also awareness of where ingredients are sourced. It's our aim to deliver a quality product at a competitive price point.
"Wherever possible we use locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients as the starting point for developing new recipes for products."
Giving established favourites a contemporary makeover is proving popular, according to Bakehouse's Kate Raison. "Bakehouse's food service customers are interested in new variations on popular themes or product types in order to keep their menus fresh and consumers interested in trying new options," she says.
"While product development, where traditional ranges are given an innovative twist, is important, indulgence with flaky pastry, chocolate, authentic flavours and fruit fillings is still very much in demand, as long as it is affordable."
To this end, Brakes has released a new product that combines the trend for individual cakes with the appetite for old favourites in its victoria sponge tulip muffin, winner of the bakery category in the Caterer Excellence in Food and Drink Awards 2010.
"One thing we have learnt from the recession is that consumers are continuing to treat themselves but they're spending more wisely and want indulgence from their treats," says Simon Cannell, business manager for the brand.
"Whether they are out shopping and stop for a coffee, or want to brighten up their lunches with something sweet, traditional favourites with a twist are where it's at. Our victoria sponge tulip muffin has taken a traditional dessert and turned it into an individually wrapped muffin."
In the same vein, ingredients supplier Unifine has launched ChefLine, a range of food service ingredients for the busy chef who is strapped for time and help, but who wants to give customers classic quality desserts. The line includes simple-to-produce bavarois fonds for cream and dessert tarts and dessert powders for classical dishes such as panna cotta, crême brulée and tiramisu, which are all enjoying a resurgence.
At this year's Baking Industry Exhibition, the brand (which also offered whoopie pies) brought back a golden oldie based on a favourite from the 1950s and 1960s - kunzle cakes. Kunzle cakes combine sponge, jam and a whirl of cream on top, all set in a chocolate cup.
DRUNCH… A NEW CONSUMPTION OCCASION
Afternoon tea and elevenses provide great opportunities for operators to push their sweet bakery offerings, but now "drunch" or "slunch" - a meal cross between dinner/supper and lunch, consisting of tapas-style small bites - is providing another potentially profitable occasion. "We believe this may well be the next fashion in food, which could be picked up and adapted in every corner of the UK food sector," says Pidy's UK general manager Robert Whittle. "It could be very profitable if interpreted and marketed in the right way. There's the potential for take-home slunch packs; drunch evenings in hotels, bars and restaurants; mini business drunches; bakery products for the slunch/drunch trade… the possibilities are infinite," he adds. Pidy's small pastry casings form an ideal base for the drunch meal and the group worked with Konrad Inghelram, head chef at Quaglino's, in August to produce a drunch lunch.