V alentine’s Day provides a huge opportunity for retailers, with research from the British Retail Consortium showing as much as £2.4bn was spent last year on presents, including flowers, chocolates and, crucially, sweet treats.

Bakers can tap into the demand for beautifully presented cakes and biscuits by either tweaking existing recipes or adding new toppings and decorations. "Selling Valentine’s treats is a great way of bringing in incre-mental sales to your business," says Mike Holling of Birds of Derby. "This year, we achieved sales in excess of £12,000 on Valentine’s products."

One of the easiest ways to do this, says Holling, is to adapt regular products, such as biscuits and cakes, by adding iced inscriptions. "Our Valentine’s cupcake was a great success this year," he says. Heart-shaped shortbreads also sell well, he says.

Millie’s Cookies also takes this approach, offering personalised giant cookies. Valentine’s Day is a very important occasion for the company, says marketing director Justine Noades. "It is the biggest seasonal sales opportunity for our stores, after Christmas, as iced designed, freshly baked cookies in a gift box are a good alternative to flowers and chocolates."

Personalised giant cookies are a popular item, because customers can have any message put on the cookie. "I am a firm believer that all outlets should place great emphasis on customer experience especially at busier times of the year like this, when the market is more crowded than ever. We know from customers that the personalisation of our products, the knowledge of our staff and the overall atmosphere is greatly received by cookie-lovers," says Noades.

The average spend on Valen-tine’s Day is lower than those at Christmas and on birthdays, adds Noades. "Sweet treats, such as cookies, provide an affordable yet indulgent treat with no need for forward-planning from the buyer and there are huge opportunities for retai-lers to add value whether that is by serving them freshly baked goods, exploiting marketing opportunities or developing packaging options that grab attention.

"The other advantage of Millie’s Cookies at this time of year is that we appeal to both men and women," she says. "Our gifting packages and personalisation options ensure customers of either gender can find something suitable for their loved one another strong point that bakers should take note of at this time of year."

Holling makes Birds’ Valentine- themed products from mid-January, to allow for a three-week window of trading during the run-up to Valentine’s Day. Seasonal events, such as Valentine’s Day and Mothering Sunday, can encourage new customers into the shop, says Holling, which is why an attractive window display is so important. "One great thing about Valentine’s Day is the colours red and white they are absolutely the best colours you can get for doing display work," he says.

ADM Milling offers a range of pre-mixes and complementary toppings and fillings, which are suitable for Valentine’s Day treats, according to marketing executive Laura Passingham. There are over 30 products to choose from, including raspberry and passion fruit cake and chocolate crème cake mixes. "These can all be used to create Valentine’s Day-inspired cupcakes, with just a few simple ingredient additions such as water, egg, and margarine," she says. "For more indulgent treats there are the chocolate fudge cake mix and the new universal brownie mix, to which bakers can blend through their choice of additions, such as chocolate chunks, dried fruit pieces, nuts or ginger." And should bakers have any cake mix left over come 15 February, it can easily be used to make springtime-themed delicacies, with just a tweak to the icings and decorations, she adds.

Pauline Ferrol, national sales controller of Bakels, says there are plenty of pre-mixes for bakers who want to adapt year-round recipes for Valentine’s Day, such as cupcakes and biscuits. "We generally go out to bakers and show them a few quirky ideas on presentation," she says. "It is about boosting sales by making the product visually appealing."

Consumers, she says, want truly indulgent, beautifully decorated products when they are going to treat their partner. "We don’t plan to be indulgent every day, but when we decide to be naughty, we want to be properly indulgent with something like a nice cupcake. We also offer a nice mallow that can go on a biscuit base and they look eye-catching in a window or a display," she says.

The window for Valentine’s Day is small, she says, as consumers do not want it stretched out too long. Unlike Holling, Ferrol says she believes a week is about as long as bakers should be offering Valentine’s products.

If you are reluctant to bake in any great quantity there are some ready-made products on the market, such as wrapped gingerbread boys and girls from supplier Image On Food, which could be stocked on the counter top. The matching pair are available in cases of 12 and finished in cellophane and ribbon. The company also supplies a Valentine’s Cookie Bouquet, made up of seven hand-decorated gingerbread hearts, arranged as a bouquet of flowers then wrapped in a clear cellophane bag and finished with ribbon.

If you are feeling bold and you think your customers might appreciate something a bit more quirky, you could follow the example of London baker Lily Vanilli, who last Valentine’s Day attracted worldwide media attention when she turned the tradition for cute saccharine hearts upside-down by producing batches of anatomically correct bleeding heart cakes.

Gruesome in appearance, the cakes were a phenomenal success. "We had something like 20,000 orders," says Vanilli. "We will probably do those again. We always do something different and we had a huge reaction. We had coverage all round the world on German TV, in American papers, Australian papers. It is always our style to do something different and bolder."

Amelia Nutting of Shuga Budz in Wolverhampton also has some customers who favour quirky designs. Last year, she was commissioned to make a cake in the shape of a human heart bearing the message ’My Heart Belongs to You’.

However, cupcakes are the most popular item Nutting makes for Valentine’s Day and, next year, she is planning to advertise Valentine’s cupcakes on Facebook and Twitter. "We have a lot of people who follow what we do online," she says. "We would probably also put a poster up on the shop door and I expect we will sell 100 to 150."

The cupcake designs are traditional pinks, creams and reds. "We will probably do some swirly designs in pink or creams with red hearts or glitter. We might do some hearts with ’I Love You’ on them, or ’Be Mine’, or other Love Hearts sweets slogans. Or we might do some flat ones with a heart within a heart."

Whatever you decide to bake for Valentine’s Day, packaging can transform simple products such as cookies into an eye-catching gift. "For Valentine’s Day this year, we developed a ’12 red roses’ product, which featured 12 individual cookies in a red, heart-shaped box, says Noades of Millie’s Cookies. "It offered visual impact in stores, which grabbed attention and added real value to a striking gift purchase. Don’t be afraid to invest in packaging or point-of-sale displays at this time of year it could be enough to entice indifferent customers."