What’s the Next Cupcake?

Jan 10, 2011
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

Some foodies are calling 2010 the “Year of the Cupcake.” The
trend is said to have started in the early part of the last decade after the
stars of Sex in the City, the defunct HBO show, raved about the cupcakes they
would wait in line for at Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village.

Since then,
cupcake-only bakeries have opened across major cities, and that appears to
have extended to many smaller cities over the last year. It’s also spawned
a big business in cupcake wedding cakes, cupcake cookbooks, and Cupcake
Wars, a hit Food Network reality baking show. And just like other items
that have gone “gourmet” such as coffee, water, mac ‘n’ cheese, and
paninis (which many consider just fancy cheese sandwiches), many rant about
the ability of the shops to fetch $2.50 to $4.00 a cupcake for something
that costs around a quarter to bake at home.

And the business keeps growing. According to a report yesterday in the New
York Times
the Crumbs Bake Shop, the country’s largest cupcake chain with 34 locations
in six states, will go public through a $66 million merger with investment
company 57th Street General Acquisition Corporation. 

Many attribute the popularity
of this comfort food trend to the recession. Cupcakes stand as a reminder
of childhood birthday parties and less stressful times. They also appeal to
all ages.

“Cupcakes are a sweet treat and small indulgences, so you feel like you’re
getting something special,” Sandy Nance, who co-manages The Cup in Springfield,
MO., told the News-Leader. “It’s more of an experience.”

store opened in late July, representing its fourth location.

Also helping the
trend is the wide range of potential flavors and decorations for inspired chefs.
The product’s handy take-out size also helps, and many shops offer tinier bite-size

“They’re small, manageable and really a lot of fun,” Jessica Zimmerman
told the News-Leader. She recently began selling her cupcakes at local
farmers markets in Springfield.

Nationwide, cupcake sales are predicted to increase
20 percent through 2013, according Mintel, the Chicago-based market research

Not surprisingly, foodies proclaim cupcakes have run their course and
pallets are ready for something new for 2011. Here, a few food predictions
for 2011:

  • Pies: Similar to cupcakes, pies provide a comfort factor, offer
    chefs a variety of creative options, and can be made almost bite-size. 
  • Hot dogs: Creative takes are being made through various toppings,
    bread or upgraded beef. (Sausage has also been mentioned as a breakout trend.)
  • Meatballs: A sliders or mini-burgers craze in 2010 is expected to
    be replaced by meatballs.
  • Korean/Street Food: Thanks to taco trucks, Korean tacos became hot
    in 2010, but Korean barbecue also grew in appeal. Other multicultural tacos
    and portable street food from regions such as South America and Japan are
    expected to gain in popularity.
  • Salads: A number of fast-food salad restaurants — Tender Greens,
    Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop, Freshii, M Cafe de Chaya, etc. — have opened
    in California, addressing the call for healthier diets. 

Discussion Questions: What’s driving the popularity of cupcakes and the success
of cupcake bakeries? What other food trends from 2010 will likely gain momentum
in 2011?

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14 Comments on "What’s the Next Cupcake?"

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Alison Chaltas
Alison Chaltas
10 years 4 months ago

Cupcakes sit right at the convergence of just about every current food trend. Think about how perfect cupcakes are for those seeking a simple and comfortable treat to escape today’s hectic life with built in portion control for a reasonable prize, ready now at your local bakery or whipped up at home “homemade” with an easy mix, customized to the individual whims of each family member. What’s not to like about cupcakes? What other treats are so on trend with our lives?

Phil Rubin
10 years 4 months ago

Cupcakes were a hit because it was a category ripe for innovation coupled with being a small, “luxury” indulgence during a recessionary/post-recessionary period. A little media exposure and luck certainly helped, as did a herd mentality and rush for others to get into the business. Supply creates demand, or it did to an extent anyway.

Whether it’s this year or next, it’s not unreasonable to expect some kind of healthier breakout food to emerge. Whether it’s salads or some vegetable “treatment”, given the fattening of America it would seem to present a huge (no pun intended) opportunity!

Mark Burr
10 years 4 months ago

I just don’t like cupcakes. I have never liked cupcakes. I probably never will like cupcakes. I have no clue why there would ever be a cupcake-only store. I didn’t even like cupcakes in school on someone’s birthday!

They are a mess. They crumble. They get frosting all over your face. Yuck! Too sweet. Too dry.

Now, offer me a pie. Mmmmmm. A great pie. Any flavor. Now, there’s a treat.

Did I mention cookies?

No, I don’t want a cupcake. To borrow and manipulate W.C. Fields: “Go away cupcakes, you bother me”.

Thank goodness they haven’t shown up at Starbucks (or at least I haven’t noticed) or I’d have to go to that ‘B’ place where they make you pour your own coffee. Please Starbucks, don’t add cupcakes!

Mike Boguszewski
Mike Boguszewski
10 years 4 months ago

By definition, can this be predicted? Doubt the next big thing is on the list, but if limited to those, my bet’s on Korean/street food. Like cupcakes, like soup a few years ago, like coffee, etc., there’s a common thread: 1 – portable. Consume on the run or at home/work; 2 – flexible quantities. Can buy for oneself or for many; 3 – Can’t do at home. Either don’t or won’t have one or more of the needed time, equipment/facilities, ingredients, skills/artistry.

So, “street food”, Korean or otherwise, is closest to cupcakes in the necessary attributes to become a “wave” food — but my real bet would be something else will emerge that fits these parameters, and we’ll all be surprised by it again.

Gene Detroyer
10 years 4 months ago

The cupcake bakery on the street level in our building has closed after two years.

I am very familiar with Crumbs…but I never knew it was a “cupcake bakery”.

Meatballs for 2011. New York magazine reports that this 2010 craze is thankfully over.

Jonathan Marek
10 years 4 months ago

Sitting here in San Francisco, it’s hard to know what is already mainstream. I’d say pies are still up-and-coming (although definitely present). Other current trends I can think of: street food festivals, hand-made pickles, and fine dining in super-casual locations.

Charcuterie, high-end pizza, and food trucks seem like they’ve hit their peak, though hopefully all three are sustainable. Cupcakes have definitely jumped the shark here — 20% growth for 3 more years sounds absurd.

Mark Barnhouse
Mark Barnhouse
10 years 4 months ago

I’m with Scanner — give me a simple cookie any day over a messy, overly-frosted cupcake. And as one of those foodies who proclaim that the trend is over, yes, cupcakes are dead to me. There’s a great piece on the top 10 food fads of 2011 over at The Huffington Post. This is from Eating Well magazine, so it’s especially good for those interested in health/wellness food trends.

Jonathan Marek
10 years 4 months ago

I also think we’ll see the Pinkberry-style frozen yogurt and high-end burger “bubbles” burst in 2011.

Christopher P. Ramey
10 years 4 months ago

I would look at the trends that impact our lifestyle rather than what is being served. Any food that is served quickly, is healthy (or not too naughty) and reasonably priced can fare well. The business model needs to work too.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 4 months ago

I don’t know what the big deal is about cupcakes? Where did this begin? I am a fan of The Food Network and watch it regularly, unless there is a cupcake program. Then I will change the channel. Sorry folks, it is not my favorite dessert and never was. Next topic?

Eliott Olson
Eliott Olson
10 years 4 months ago

Any finger food snack. I love the old fashioned hostess cherry pies along with the infamous moon pie and a cold Kayo!

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
10 years 4 months ago
A great topic we can sink our teeth into. But, a cupcake “experience?” Flash-in-the-pan becomes flash-in-the-cup. Are Hostess cupcakes enjoying a similar resurgence? What about muffins, a close cousin to the cupcake? How are their sales? Twinkies? Ho Hos? My raspberry Zingers!? A lot of the appeal of cupcakes is “play value.” That is, you get to handle it and perform little delicate moves like removing the wrapping. Then you have your own special consumption style – top-down, side-to-side, or other. That’s play value. The concept of play value was introduced with airline meals. Something the passengers could diddle with, handling all the tiny little parts (including packaging) to reduce the boredom of flight while assembling their meals. As testimony, consider the five “food predictions for 2011” offered by Tom Ryan. Only one, salads, is a fork food. All the rest are hand-held. Chefs tell us that we eat with our eyes, but I’m here to declare that we eat with our fingers. That’s immediate. That’s tactile. That’s fundamental. Finger-lickin’ good. We are just Neanderthals… Read more »
James Avilez
James Avilez
10 years 4 months ago

Cupcakes had their day in 2007-08 here in San Francisco it’s over already.

Kai Clarke
10 years 4 months ago

Forecasting the next great thing is 100% art and no science. If anyone could foretell what will be hot in the future, in terms of retailing, they could be the richest man in the world…the important thing is to NOT invest in poor decisions that are too demanding, not customer centric, and require immense investments for the time-frame in which they pay out–good business investments.


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