Bakers Journal

Features Profiles
Fresh Trends: May 2009


April 29, 2009
By Michelle Brisebois

Topics

The next great miniature dessert trend could very well have you saying “whoopie!”. Created by the Amish community in Pennsylvania, the story goes that when an Amish man found one of these treats in his lunch he would gleefully exclaim, “whoopie!”

When cupcakes became the trendy new baked good we took modest interest.
But when they became so popular that entire bakery chains dedicated exclusively to making cupcakes became commonplace, we sat bolt upright and
took notice.

A recent New York Times food column crowned whoopie pies as the next big bakery trend, and in light of “cupcake mania,” we would be wise to give it our attention. It seems we want a little whimsy in our baked goods – now more than ever. But this desire begs some questions: Why is this trend so strong now? Do these products have staying power, or will they be just another flash in the cake pan?

We all remember the bagel craze of about 10 years ago. Cupcakes have enjoyed a similar mercurial rise in popularity, but the reasons are more deeply rooted in popular culture.

The hit TV show “Sex and the City” featured its main characters enjoying gourmet cupcakes at Magnolia’s bakery in New York City. Thus, the cupcake’s renaissance is generally attributed to some combination of a population fresh off the no-carb diet craze craving a sugary indulgence; the chick-lit culture that revolved around “Sex and the City”; and a need for grown-ups to seek out the comfort foods of an idealized childhood.

The cupcake, however, has more practical appeal. It’s sweet. It’s portable. It requires no cutlery. It’s large enough to be satisfying but small enough to be guilt-free or at least guilt-free enough.

Rachel Mowat, co-owner of the Frosted Cupcake in St. Catharines, Ont., sees all of these factors driving the cupcake trend.

“As a wedding planner, I saw so many requests for cupcake trees instead of wedding cakes,” Mowat says. “A cupcake tree is an ideal way to control costs when wedding budgets are tight. A cupcake tree can easily cut the cost of the wedding cake by half.” The Frosted Cupcake does not have a traditional storefront but operates as a virtual business for the moment, filling only online orders.

“We’ve approached the decoration of the cupcake as though they are little works of art,” Mowat says. “We’ve found our cupcakes with flower designs on top are especially popular with women. Daisies, which are traditionally thought of as being whimsical themselves, are quite a trend.”

For businesses that want to quickly tap into the “personal portion of whimsy” trend offered by these baked goods, Rich Products of Canada boasts a wonderful program designed to tickle the kid in all of us. Rich Products business development manager Kevin Spratt and associate business development manager Jeff Solway confirm cupcakes are the perfect vehicle for tapping into the comfort baked goods trend.

“Cupcakes are an individual portion-sized baked good that really lends itself to impulse purchases,” Spratt says.

Solway points out that a strong trend they’re seeing includes a Rat Pack meets the Brady Bunch vibe.

“There’s a tendency to take what’s familiar and childlike and give it an unusual presentation,” he says. “We’re calling it ‘familiar with a twist.’ For example, we’re seeing happy-hour cupcakes made with margarita icing as a way of making a child-like treat more sophisticated.”

While cupcakes might be the current darling of the trend-spotters, the humble whoopie pie might just be a contender for the crown.

Whoopie pies are best described as two cake-like cookies with whipped topping sandwiched between them. Created by the Amish community in Pennsylvania, the story goes that when an Amish man found one of these treats in his lunch he would gleefully exclaim “whoopie!”

The Williams-Sonoma catalog describes whoopie pies as “pure edible nostalgia.” The filling is generally of one of two types: a thick, sweet frosting made from Crisco shortening combined with confectioners’ sugar, or, more conveniently, a dollop of marshmallow fluff.

Cranberry Island’s whoopie pies, which start at US$28.75 per half dozen, are made with chocolate cake or vanilla and are available in shapes such as scallop shells and pumpkins. Filling flavours include rum, peppermint, Cointreau, raspberry and espresso – echoing the “familiar with a twist” theme seen in the cupcake trend.

While whoopie pies are becoming more commonplace in the United States, they are only beginning to make their presence known in Canada. It makes sense that whoopie pies would have the same positive attributes as cupcakes: portable, decadent and nostalgic.

But beyond the obvious attractions for consumers, these small quirky treats more than carry their weight in terms of beefing up your balance sheet. Rich Products reports in a study titled “Dessert Discovery” that although consumers admit to trying to eat healthy foods, 73 per cent indicate that they indulge weekly and 96 per cent admit to paying more for small indulgences. NPD also reports that restaurants with mini-desserts on the menu sell a dessert to 6.7 per cent more of their consumer traffic than those that don’t.

Small portions, straightforward recipes and solid profit margins – what’s not to like? Just maybe the next signature item for your bakery will be one of these small but mighty baked goods. And let’s be honest for just a second – it’s hard not to say “whoopie” without smiling just a bit.


Michelle Brisebois specializes in helping companies grow their brands and can be reached at briseboismichelle@sympatico.ca.


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