Little gems: why small has become beautiful

Supermarket sales of cupcakes are booming – and premium products in smaller pack formats are playing a big role in driving the growth.

It’s said that good things come in small packages: diamonds, rubies and, increasingly, cupcakes.

Soaring sales of singles and twin-packs have contributed to the boom in supermarket sales of cupcakes, with overall value sales up almost a quarter year on year to £39.9m [Kantar 52 w/e 31 May 2019].

In contrast to the increase in small packs – with singles up 50.5% and twin-packs up 23.4% – larger formats, including nine-packs have declined.

Meanwhile, the average price of cupcakes has risen 12.7% – a further sign of growing interest in smaller packs that typically command a higher price and are more premium – including more toppings and ‘grown-up’ flavours such as toffee and salted caramel.

“Although consumers are increasingly becoming more health-conscious, we do believe they are seeking indulgence when it comes to treating themselves, with premium products being chosen over standard cakes to really make the treat count,” says Kirsty Graham, marketing executive at Cake Décor.

The supermarkets are keeping up with these trends, with many selling twin-pack cupcakes as part of their wider portfolio.

Tesco is one such retailer but it sticks to quite traditional flavours in its twin-packs, such as cookie dough, red velvet and chocolate fudge. Vanilla and chocolate are also present in its free-from range.

Waitrose has also opted for well-known flavours in its free-from cupcakes with chocolate & hazelnut and lemon & poppy seed variants. It became one of the first major retailers to list egg- and dairy-free cupcakes from Oggs earlier this year.

While the classic flavours reign supreme, Waitrose showed some flair with its Scrumptious Summer Cakes range, which drew inspiration from the trend for classic flavours in new formats and citrus flavours for summer. It includes Lemon Meringue & Eton Mess Cupcakes, for example, alongside Rhubarb & Custard Mini Cakes and Lemon & Lime Cupcakes.

It’s reminiscent of the inventive flavours often found in cupcake specialists such as Lola’s Cupcakes and Hummingbird Bakery.

The same can be said for Co-op’s range of mini cupcake platters, which come in Milkshake and Mocktail variants, priced at £2 for a nine-pack.

Another way to premiumise the category is through branded products. Although these currently only make up 10% of the cupcake market [Kantar 2019], Christiana Ballarini, category marketing director, Europe, at CSM believes they present a
big opportunity.

“Themed cupcakes topped with everyone’s favourite confectionery take bakery products to the next level,” she says.

“Branded products have the advantage of being instantly recognisable with consumers to drive sales and also tap into nostalgia, offering consumers their favourite treat in a new format.”

Look, for example, at Cadbury Heroes Cupcakes. Launched in 2018 they generated £2m in sales a year, leading manufacturer Premier Foods to extend the range this year with a 12-pack of Freddo cupcakes (rsp £5) in March and a Crème Egg and Mini Egg cupcake platter (rsp £8/ 12-pack) at Easter.

As a result, Cadbury made the biggest contribution to branded sales, with value up £289,000 year on year [Kantar 2019].

Mermaids still make a splash

Trends in toppings come and go, but one that seems to be holding its place in the market is unicorns and mermaids.

“Unicorn and mermaid themes are still strong trends in the baking market, with these colours being incorporated in frosting and sprinkle decorations for a truly magical finish,” says Kirsty Graham, marketing executive at Cake Décor.

Supermarkets have caught on to this, with both Asda and Tesco offering unicorn cupcakes and Asda launching an ‘Under the Sea’ cupcake nine-pack earlier this year.

This unicorn trend originated in celebration cakes, and others seem to be making the shift too. Co-op, for example, has added Ruby the Reindeer cupcakes to its Christmas range this year, following the success of the Ruby the Reindeer Celebration Cake in 2018.

Aside from novelty options, Graham suggests that mixing a selection of sprinkles makes for a more interesting topping.

“It’s all about interesting and eye-catching sprinkle mixes. Combining different sprinkle sizes and shapes makes for a more interesting decoration that’s sure to instantly transform cupcakes into something much more appealing and indulgent,” she says.

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