Cupcakes are really the flavour of the moment in South Africa today. A few short years ago they were most certainly not centre stage, but are now available in a wide variety of shapes, forms and flavours.

The decadent little treat has taken pride of place at office parties, birthdays and even weddings consigning the more traditional sponges to a seeming ‘’poor cousin’’ status. We are seeing bakeries and small companies springing up all over that specialise in custom cupcakes. There are new and exotic flavours being tested, sophisticated designs offered, and a whole plethora of alternatives from micro-treats to mega-indulgences. Coupled to this, the prevalence of baking shows – take a bow Buddy – has seen more and more people scurrying into their kitchens to experiment with their own unique flavours. Supermarkets and retailers are also getting onto the bandwagon with ready-mix options and an endless variety of flavours to boot.

The cupcake trend exploded at the turn of the millennium when a 20 second insert on Sex and the City showed the girls spoiling themselves in a cupcake shop. This burgeoning business was helped along by some reality shows, including Cupcake Wars, which showed just how easy it was to be creative in your own kitchen. This creativity was taken into big business and the trend expanded exponentially with entrepreneurial bakers, existing businesses to and new franchises all cashing in on a high-margin, premium product that was easy to make. However, the market has become somewhat saturated, especially in the American and European markets, people are looking for ways to ensure sales remain buoyant.

Obviously, creativity is the key to ensuring sustainability, so what will be the next big thing in the cupcake world?

Something to look out for is the surprise factor. The idea is to keep things simple on the outside and make the most of the inside. Differing patterns, colours and perhaps even chocolate, fruit or jam centres are going to make your customers come back for more. With the outside being understated the inside becomes a surprise that is sure to delight.

Inject a little romance into your life. Gone are the days when the only cake present at a wedding would be a 12 tiered fruit monstrosity. People are constantly looking for something different to celebrate those landmark events and cupcakes can be just the tonic for tired traditions. Be delicate and use edible lace and icing gently folded to make ruffles. These cupcakes are both beautiful and delicate and, complemented with pale colours and understated flavours, really lend something to that special occasion.

It’s all in the flavour. Little cupcakes with basic decoration allow exotic flavours to come through. By marbling two flavours or colours of sponge, a stunning swirled effect and a union of flavours is created. By incorporating lighter pastels you will appeal to a far wider audience to match their celebration themes. Traditional white has its place but using colour can add something special to a classy affair.

Lastly, we cannot forget about the design. We all know that cakes have been elaborately decorated but the trend is moving toward its smaller cousin. Whether it is an elaborate storybook scene, tiny lifelike sculptures of a bride and groom or perfectly piped butter cream, cake making is becoming more and more of an art form. Even the cupcake boxes are beautifully designed.

So whether you are in the boardroom, or catering to a wedding of 400, remember to experiment with your shapes, colours, flavours and fillings, and you may just find a whole new market for your delectable desserts.

Local look

To have a look at the state of the local cupcake market The Baker spoke to general manager of Rush Trading & Manufacturing, Kevin Olive.

TB: Currently, the global market is at a saturation point. Large franchises are losing market share and smaller, independent businesses are feeling the pinch. There are just too many retailers offering the product. Is this the case in South Africa, or are we still a growing market?

KO: Over the past year there has defiantly been substantial growth, at retail level, for standard muffins which have almost become a daily commodity, and cupcakes which are premium priced special occasional type products. The same applies to the independent bakeries and franchisers when they offer dimensionally different high quality products which are enhanced by using printed baking cups or the tulip style baking cups and decorations and variations.

TB: Do you feel there is still significant growth to be seen in the sector?

KO: Yes. There is growth in the sector, for bakeries big or small. To maintain their market share they need to offer consistent quality and well presented branded confectionary with which the consumer can identify.

TB: What vale-adds do you offer clients so that they may become more efficient, and productive in their business?

KO: In order to meet demand some larger bakeries have automated their standard muffin line to meet demand. (Which, by the way, require premium quality baking cups to work efficiently). Premium priced muffins using Tulip type baking cups the larger American muffins have also seen some growth. In our opinion muffins follow tourism which is proved by the fact that our northern neighbours are demanding premium type baking cups.

Rush Trading’s Carmen branded products are designed to work efficiently and are always available helping to ensure the productivity on the manufacturing side of the business and the quality enhances the presentation of the finished goods.

TB: What can business do to ensure they stand out from the crowd?

KO: Ensure that their products are always consistent, good quality, always available and recognisable by the consumer. Rush Trading can assist by offering quality; custom printed baking cups in smaller quantities at competitive prices to give brand identity.

Decorated cupcakes are enjoying increased demand along with muffins baked in tulip baking cups with toppings both of which add value and eye appeal to the confectionary. There is also a trend in terms of healthy alternatives.

TB: Do you see an emergence of smaller ‘’mom ‘n pop’’ stores as opposed to the traditional large bakeries?

KO: The emergence of specialised offerings of highly decorated cupcakes for special occasions is prevalent, offering opportunities for “mom ‘n pop” stores which deal directly with their customers. These stores are generally not in high traffic retail locations due cost of rent and depend on word of mouth for business.

In summary it is our opinion that muffins are a staple food because of convenience and cupcakes are a practical way of serving elaborate portions.