Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Finger-food trends are replacing cupcakes .. or are they?

July 15, 2014

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Montreal's Clever Cupcakes stages a pair in a tiny living room. PHOTO: Clever Cupcakes

The headline-making saga of the Crumbs Bake Shop company – the cupcake chain that closed all of its stores only to receive a last-minute reprieve from an investor group – suggests a few ideas for localizing food-related business stories.

The potential survival of the Crumbs chain is good news for its investors and workers, bad news for those trying to tout days-old Crumbs fare on eBay for $250.  But what does the stumble say about overall demand for the high-carb, high-sugar treats?  First stop, obviously, is a check-in with local and independent cupcake purveyors; the trend has been pronounced “officially dead” by The Week which give a brief history of the cupcake’s rise and fall and says Cronuts – a blend of croissant and donut – are the upcoming popular pastry.   The Wall Street Journal forecast the “battered” cupcake market (pardon the pun) last year; note the metrics so you can ask local shops about their daily sales, etc.  In hindsight: The Atlantic wrote of the death of the cupcake in RIP Cupcake, published Sept. 4, 2009.

This Arizona Republic take on the issue, “Arizona cupcake shops have weathered recession,” includes some fascinating info from the market research firm NPD group about national sales and prices of the sweet treats.  And FoodNavigatorUSA writes about the dangers of oversaturation and single-product specialties.  Here’s a Virginian-Pilot piece about a local baker’s backup plan in case the cupcake fad fades; she won’t say what she’s equipping her shops to produce but maybe you can get more information from your local entrepreneurs.

In addition to specialty cupcake stores, check out demand for cupcakes with grocers, regular bakeries, catering firms and wholesalers.  What’s on the wane and what’s gaining favor?  Check in with wholesale equipment suppliers and even craft stores and others that offer cooking classes and cake-decorating lessons, too.

Another tack for business writers:  What’s next after single-serve cakes?  Food trends shift as tastes become jaded and markets saturated but new opportunities for entrepreneurs are popping up all the time; here’s Forbes’ take on “7 business lessons from gourmet cupcakes.”   What’s heating up amid the lunch carts, food trucks and specialty prepared food retailers in your area?  Another place to find local food-related small businesspersons trying new innovations is the mall-based food court; here’s an  article from QSR, the trade publication for the quick-food industry, about “The New Food Court,” and  how the model is helping shopping centers fill vacant space.   Asian foods, fresh salsa and hot dogs on sticks are some of the cuisine mentioned.

For ideas on what to look for, here’s a take from the London Guardian on one food retailer’s mission in Austin, Texas to find the next big snack; the article is a fun read but has some serious content about how consumer trends get rolling.

Here are some 2014 food trend ideas; looks like ice-cream sandwiches might become the sweet du jour.   And at the just-completed Fancy Food exposition in New York, items like smoked chocolate, beets and coconut were hot; are any local up-and-comers translating these taste sensations into finger foods that’ll give cupcakes a run for the money?   MarketWatch highlights advocado ice cream, half-popped popcorn kernels and other unusual items in its report on the Fancy Food show.

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