It’s the ultimate in indulgence; a slice of cake, a square of shortbread or an oaty flapjack with a cup of tea. Neat, single-portion quick fixes of cake and other baked treats are increasingly tempting customers as the grab-and-go coffee shop culture of busy lifestyles and the sweet treat market continue to grow.

Statistics from Kantar Worldpanel reveal volume sales of cake bars have seen an almost 6% year-on-year rise, while individual slices have seen an increase of 1.4%, driven by the trends for indulgence and convenience. With the majority of cake purchases falling into the impulse-buy category, what can bakers do to inject longevity into the appeal of a single slice that’s small enough not to be laden with guilt, and big enough to suffice as a tasty treat? How can a single-portioned slice compete next to other pre-packaged treats of chocolates, biscuits and snacks?

According to CSM United Kingdom, the secret lies in grabbing a customer’s attention with an enticing display of affordable slices, that are just the right size and price to be snacked at in a lunch hour. Lisa Boswell, marketing manager of CSM, says: "The key purchasing trigger is a prominent display that grabs the attention of the consumer and really showcases products to best advantage; secondly, the aroma of freshly baked cakes is hard to refuse. Of course, an affordable price point that puts the cake ’within reach’ and the opportunity for the consumer to grab a bargain are tangible triggers in today’s market. Once you have these basic triggers in mind, then it’s just a case of developing your cake, traybake and slice menu to maximise opportunities."

Boswell says bakers should consider single-portion cakes as "treat-me" items, appealing to the office worker wanting a pick-me-up along with a lunchtime sandwich. She says the easiest way to do this is by freezing traybakes, and then thawing and serving just enough single portions for each day’s worth of trading, recommending CSM’s Readi-Bake chocolate brownie or carrot cake as mixes that are practical as tray bakes. "Not only does this help save time in the long run," says Boswell, "but it also helps bakers extend their offerings in the most cost-effective way."

By freezing, for instance, a traybake of brownies or carrot cake, and thawing as and when required, bakeries can still offer their customers variety, while eliminating wastage and saving time on preparation and costs. "It’s a great way for bakers to be price point-specific," Boswell adds.

Swedish baker Almondy agrees with the convenience of freezing traybakes and single-portion slices. Its pre-sliced frozen cake range, which has been selling in the UK since 2005, following an initial launch in Ikea, has seen total year-to-date sales up by 4%. The frozen cake defrosts in less than 10 minutes and comes ready-to-serve; bulk cases of Almondy for the foodservice sector contains frozen cakes pre-cut into 12 slices. "All the foodservice is pre-sliced," explains Andrew Ely, MD of Almondy in the UK, "so the customer can take one slice at a time which avoids wastage."

On-the-go products

Freezing cakes doesn’t have to mean compromising on freshness either. The Handmade Cake Company first introduced its Cakes-to-Go range in 2008 and it has now grown to account for 10% of the overall business and, by next year, is anticipated to increase to 20% of turnover. The cakes are baked fresh, and frozen as soon as they are made, combining the convenience of being packed as individual portions with quality ingredients.

Parry Hughes-Morgan, MD of The Handmade Cake Company, says the appeal of Cakes-to-Go lies in being able to provide more than just a sugar fix in the form of a chocolate or a biscuit, but something that tastes homemade and indeed handmade (as the name suggests) instead. "Our individually portioned Cakes-to-Go work well in this time-poor culture, when a customer might really be craving a slice of freshly homemade cake, but just doesn’t have time to sit in a café for half an hour. It’s for when they really want a treat, but not just a digestive biscuit, craving something premium and artisan instead."

Hughes-Morgan says one of the biggest challenges to bakers producing individual-portioned cake slices is to highlight the quality of the ingredients and convince customers they are buying a product that is made with care and tastes as good as a slab of freshly-baked cake.

"Customers do have a tendency to see a product pre-packed in plastic as something that’s dumbed-down and not as good as the ’real’ thing," he says. "We have to put across the message on our packaging in a very limited amount of space that this is a homemade cake, even if it is wrapped in plastic. Customers who pick up individual portions are usually in a rush themselves and don’t have very much time to consider what they are buying, so it has been really important to us to create striking packaging."

The Handmade Cake Company says single-portion cakes slices shouldn’t be treated any differently to a larger cake; the ingredients and recipes used are exactly the same as the ones used for its traybakes. "It’s the ingredients which help make a product stand out," explains Hughes-Morgan. "We never use mixes, and bake the cakes fresh, using the same ingredients that you could if you were making them at home in your own kitchen. We then freeze them straight away."

Its Cakes-to-Go range features classic combinations, including: a chocolate fruit and nut slice, based on an old-fashioned refrigerator cake, with pieces of biscuit, walnuts and cherries on a chocolate fudge base; an all-butter flapjack; and, its best-seller, caramel shortcake.

Yet Hughes-Morgan stresses the importance of continuing to innovate with new combinations. He says American flavours are a big inspiration right now, with a Boston Brownie slice a fudge brownie topped with chocolate chips already on the menu and Rocky Road and granola Cakes-to-Go launching soon. "American combinations work fantastically as traybakes and individual portions; there’s something about them that’s very winning with customers, including children."

Ingredients supplier Macphie says creating American-style mini-treats is one way to make individually portioned baked produce stand out. Macphie marketing manager Jania Boyd explains: "Potential cake buyers see mini-cakes as a convenient, portable indulgence, which won’t ruin the diet or break the bank. But these small indulgences must look good and be jam-packed with flavour for example, you could include cake pops and marshmallows, or mini red velvet cupcakes with creamy frosting. By making them look good, you will make the decision to purchase that treat a no-brainer."

Over in South Wales, Clam’s Handmade Cakes is doing a roaring trade in single-portion cakes and traybakes. "The rise in our sales of single servings has been so great, that we have invested in a flow wrapper to improve our packaging in this market," says Lewis Phillips, one of the founders of the company.

Flavour-wise, Phillips says, caramel slices and chocolate brownies remain traditional favourites, but like The Handmade Cake Company, Clam’s is always keeping an eye out on American cakes that could work as single servings and slices in the UK, as coming up with new stand-out products remains the biggest challenge. "We’ve already identified the need to create single cake pops, due to the American X-factor," he says. "The market is so saturated that bakeries have had to up their game and devise unique new flavours. We have just launched a coconut and lemon slice that is proving very popular, while our red berry slice, made with fruit, Rice Krispies and coconut, has seen rapid growth in sales over the last six months. You need great packaging, but equally a great product to compete in today’s market."

At the larger end of the market, individual cake portions and slices appeal to families in particular because of their simple convenience, fitting in to lunch boxes either for children to take to school, or for parents to take to work. Pauline Ferrol, national sales controller of British Bakels, one of the largest ingredient suppliers in the UK, says: "Cakes are inherently convenient, particularly single-serve and individually-wrapped products. This is why cakes, traybakes and slice lines are such an important market for bakers."

While some bakers prefer not to use mixes, Ferrol says these are a quick way to produce bulk slices and single-serve portions, which can be brought to life by different flavoured fillings, such as caramel filling for millionaire’s shortbread or toffee sauce for single servings of banoffee pie slices. Products in Bakels range include Kokomix, which needs just the addition of cold water to produce a wide variety of moist-eating coconut lines.

This September, Premier Foods, the UK’s largest food producer, which owns the Mr Kipling brand, is launching individually packaged angel cake and lemon cake slices, in snap packs, so that each slice can be broken off and used one at a time. Premier Foods says it has been spurred on to launch individually packaged slices as a result of consumer demand for portion control and reduced food waste.

Diana Dorsett, category controller for cake at Premier Foods, says: "Mr Kipling Snap Packs are designed to encourage shoppers to think of cake outside the traditional teatime occasion, by increasing portability and versatility. It fits perfectly into a lunch box, creating a great sales opportunity."