An angry celebration cake-maker sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that was before the likes of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose muscled into the gentle world of cake decoration.
Ask eminent craft bakers what they think of rivals such as M&S Food to Order or WaitroseEntertaining and the gloves are peeled back. Words such as "impersonal" and "limited" are bandied about.
Liz Davidson runs Classic Celebration Cakes in Stockport, which supplied the last five Royal wedding cakes. She leads the attack with the charge that you get more quantity as well as quality at the craft bakery. "I feel that the supermarkets’ brochures lead the individual into believing that their cakes are of a similar size and quality to the craft business’s but appear to be cheaper. It is only on reading the small print that one becomes aware that supermarket cakes are much smaller than the normal three tiers produced in the majority of craft businesses."
She points out that the craft baker can adapt quickly to trends, with diamantes popular at the moment, for example. A craft business is also much more flexible to clients’ wishes and provides a tasty cake. All wedding clients taste the different cakes on offer before choosing what type to have.
But it’s a case of horses for courses, she concludes. "I think that if a person wishes to buy their celebration cake from one of the supermarkets, then they are not interested in having a unique cake and the personal touch of visiting a specialised shop, so there will always be a particular market area for them."
A league apart
Carol Tang, of Terry Tang Designer Cakes, the company that won the Celebration Cake Maker of the Year accolade, sponsored by Renshaw, at British Baker’s 2007 and 2008 Baking Industry Awards, agrees with this prognosis. She says: "Sometimes people quote the supermarket price, but we explain we are leagues apart and offer a very diffe-rent service.
"I feel there is room for both of us in the marketplace. Supermarkets offer such a limited range and customers cannot get bespoke from the commercial sellers. That’s where we shine."
It is also a question of taste, she adds. "It is important that the cakes taste right; that is why our customers come back to us each time they plan a celebration." Tang’s cakes look good, but they also taste good, she says.
Trevor Mooney, joint MD of craft chain Chatwins of Nantwich and past-president of the Richemont Club of Great Britain, says craft bakers are more than up to the challenge posed by the supermarket competition. Customers are drawn to the craft baker because of the combination of quality and personal service on offer, he says.
Brides are invited to visit the Chatwins bakery to discuss their requirements directly with the cake decorator. And it’s not just about appearance, but about taste too.
The only thing the supermarket has over the craft sector is price, adds Mooney. "So long as we can continue to offer quality and service, celebration cakes should continue to be an important part of our business. Vitally important in this is the retention of the skill levels required and the continued training to ensure we have staff with the skills in the future."
Davidson is also confident that the supermarkets will never win the battle for commissions on celebration cakes. Her sales are slightly up on last year, with orders coming in earlier than usual for next year’s weddings. There is the proviso that this labour-intensive line of work should be complemented by areas such as chocolate work, place settings and corporate work. But she says: "We are an established business, with 20 years of trading in celebration cakes. I feel there will always be a future for quality and personal service."
=== Celebration cakes’ growth driven by increased volume and price rises ===
l The average price per pack increased by 1.5% from £5.66 to £5.75 year on year
l The celebration cake sector has seen volume growth of 1.5%
l It is worth £80m, with a value growth of 3% year on year
l On average 28.2% of UK households purchased a celebration cake 1.9 times in the year
Source: TNS data, 52 w/e 17 May 2009, courtesy of BakeMark