Sep 28, 2010
Recipe for Success
Abby Heugel, Managing Editor

Tempt your shoppers with the sweet theme of cupcakes

Without a birthday cake, there would be no birthday candles. Without the birthday candles, there would be no birthday wish. Now what fun is that? Birthdays and cake are synonymous and although their pairing is nothing new, the popularity of sweets as a party theme itself has started stealing the sweet spotlight.

Cakes – and their miniature version, the cupcake – have been showing up on everything from party plates and invites to primetime TV shows and books. Whereas cupcakes were once relegated to the children’s table, this sweet theme has taken on a more “mature” persona as well, making them a theme for all ages.

“In today’s business climate, retailers are always looking for products that appeal to adults and children, are reasonably priced, can be displayed in a variety of ways and make customers feel good,” said Sara Stevens of Candy Care/Ooh La La Candy. “Cupcakes are the answer.”

It’s not just the confection itself making the retail rounds, but also the theme of cupcakes and sweets. There are an increasing variety of products that offer a cupcake theme, providing more cross-merchandising options to retailers.

“Retailers have more variety to offer their customers,” said Donna Modrell of Peaceable Kingdom Press. “Where you used to only be able to find cupcake-themed items on stationery product such as invitations and notepads, you can now find cupcakes on jewelry, stickers, tote bags, napkins, balloons and even clothing.

“We all know that cupcakes are cute and delicious,” she continued, “but they seem to offer a more personal touch as well. It’s almost like a cupcake was made just for you, so giving the gift of an actual cupcake, cupcake balloon or cupcake card is sort of the same thing.”

According to a recent report for confections and desserts from Packaged Facts, a consumer market research firm in Rockville, Md., this trend and other dessert-oriented products bring out the consumers’ desire for nostalgia, indulgence and flavor adventure.

“Balloons specifically are perfect for this theme of indulgence for ‘kids of all ages,'” said Lisa Bennett of Pioneer Balloon Co. “If it’s for nostalgic reasons, it’s a fun way to create a colorful and delicious adventure on your birthday. Cupcakes and other sweets also feature glittery, sugar-coated or candied highlights that offer a special sophistication to everyday items and take them to the next level of excitement.”

Kate Dowling of Design Design agreed, adding that more and more parties and events have incorporated cupcakes as their sweet of choice, so they’re finding that anything with a cupcake print or shape flies off the shelves and into the consumer’s hands.

“In the party and gift industry, the cupcake theme has become a staple that I don’t think we’ll see disappear anytime soon,” Dowling said. “Design Design has this icon on anything from paper tableware, greeting cards, candles, a cupcake-specific pedestal (that also fits a small cake), an apron, oven mitt, a new stationery giftable shaped like a cupcake and even a blinged-up die cut gift tote.”

Retailers should play up combinations that include cupcakes and other sweets to set the stage in paper goods, accessories and balloons. The theme is quite versatile, so all of these items can easily fit into any environment, but also are unique enough to stand out as a fun accent to any event.

“Birthdays have always been popular with children for the cupcakes, cake and ice cream,” Bennett said. “But this new trend in gourmet cupcakes, with popular color combinations and different styles, is becoming more popular for teen and adult parties – especially when cross-merchandised with other everyday themes like polka dots (which are also really hot and available in many colors), stripes and flowers.”

She added that the color palettes for such festive occasions are bright and lively and that they’re also seeing the chocolate, rose, yellow and lavender palettes growing in popularity.

“For 2011, the trend is especially strong for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day,” said Robin Oxley of Anagram. “We are leveraging the popularity of this theme with exciting new balloons that incorporate the fun ‘sweets’ icons and shapes.”

Cupcakes and cherries will be mainstays for Valentine’s Day in a look fresh with pink, aqua and chocolate brown. For Mother’s Day, sherbet-inspired colors and citrus colors are combined with pewter or brown accents.

In today’s difficult economic climate and with the competition from discounters, party stores need to provide customers with ideas for using merchandise.

“That’s where having unique products and showing how they can be used will give you an advantage in gaining and keeping customers,” Stevens said. “Simply taking a cake plate or cupcake stand and piling it high with products creates a beautiful, functional center piece.”

Bennett said that using an area in the store to arrange featured monthly items in a themed setting is a great way to keep customers coming back for more ideas. Retailers should set up a small table and dress it accordingly with everything that can be cross-merchandised with the sweets theme.

“Be sure to include products that set the entire atmosphere – from paper goods, a centerpiece, inflated balloons and glitter or confetti,” she added. “There’s no better way to ‘show it to sell it’ than this type of display.”

Modrell agreed, adding that retailers who have the space and can afford to create a cupcake section should do so. Taking a cupcake tier holder and put cupcake-themed product in each holder, and the cuteness factor alone will draw eyes that way. And make good use of your windows, as who wouldn’t stop at a window display full of “sweet” products?

“If the store or window does not have enough room for the complete setting, display boards decorated with the products also show the consumer how the party can come together for a great atmosphere,” Bennett said. “Display boards can be placed above the corresponding merchandise for that extra boost consumers need to pull the whole event together. Again, if you can display the boards with inflated balloons, you’re sure to catch everyone’s eye the minute they walk into the area.”

And once you catch their eye, you can whet their appetite for more cupcake-themed products – the icing on the (cup)cake.

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