Post-Pandemic Snacking

Consumption of sweet bakery snacks such as cakes and pies has undergone numerous changes following the devastation wrought by the pandemic.

by Jonathan Thomas

Cakes continue to represent one of the most popular types of sweet bakery goods. In the UK, for example, an estimated 89% of adults eat cakes on a regular basis, with 86% often buying into the category. However, volume sales within the market have been largely static for several years, for reasons such as growing consumer concern over sugar and calorie intake, the trend towards gluten-free diets and a perceived lack of innovation within the sector.

Penetration of snack cakes such as cupcakes amongst US households is 75%, with annual sales currently worth an estimated USD23bn. It is estimated that 19% of US consumers regularly buy either cupcakes or whole cakes, with sales of smaller cakes heavily skewed towards younger people, due to their busier lifestyles. Elsewhere in North America, Mintel data indicates that cupcakes rank as one of the top three sweet bakery goods amongst Canadians aged between 18 and 44.

Pies are arguably less ubiquitous throughout the world, although sales are relatively high in western markets such as the UK and the US. Whereas savory pies represent a popular meal component in these countries, sweet pies tend to be viewed more as a dessert or as a snack. Fruits such as apples, cherries, peaches and berry fruits tend to represent the most widely used fillings for sweet pies in western markets, although local tastes do act as a significant influence upon the market – in the US, for example, pecan pie is a favorite, especially within the southern states where pecans are predominantly grown. When eaten as desserts, sweet pies are often served with accompaniments such as cream, custard or ice cream.

Impact of Covid-19

On the one hand, cakes have been one of the main beneficiaries of the lockdown measures imposed to halt the spread of the Covid-19 virus. People in stressful times have increasingly been inclined to seek out products affording an acceptable treat, while the pandemic has also stimulated a sense of nostalgia for happier times, therefore driving interest in products and flavors associated with yesteryear. Treat-style products such as cakes have also become a popular option for elevating in-home entertainment occasions, e.g. as an indulgent accompaniment to watching a film. At the same time, however, it should be noted that lockdown witnessed a sizeable growth in home baking, which can have a negative impact upon demand for cakes at the retail level.

During lockdown periods, consumers in the UK, for example, gravitated towards sharing cakes such as slabs and Swiss rolls, since these were especially suitable for the smaller celebrations hosted within households in the absence of social gathering occasions. However, data from Kantar suggests that while some sectors thrived during lockdown, demand for other varieties of cakes and pies fell. For the 12 weeks ending August 9, 2020, a double-digit increase in sales was recorded for products such as cake portions, slab/cut cakes, large whole cakes and small pies. However, both small cakes and cake bars experienced a decline in sales.

The pandemic has also wrought changes upon the way sweet bakery goods such as cakes are being purchased. Given the prevailing concerns over virus transmission, sales of unwrapped bakery goods have undergone a sizeable decrease in parts of the world, with consumers instead opting for pre-packed formats – these have the additional advantage of portion control, which satisfy many health requirements. During 2020, some US food retailers reported a fall in sales of in-store bakery (ISB) products by more than 40%.

In contrast, one sector that underwent a boom during the lockdown periods of 2020 and early 2021 was online cake deliveries. With many retail and foodservice outlets closed and some sections of the population unable or reluctant to leave the house, consumers in many countries were forced to turn to online channels for purchasing of cakes. Within the UK market, online cake shop Meg Rivers Bakers saw its sales increase by 157% during June, July and August of 2020, with 40% of orders coming from new customers. Another leading online cake supplier in the UK is Jack & Beyond, which commenced business prior to the arrival of the pandemic in late 2019 and is based at Fulham in London. The company, which never closed during lockdown periods, supplies a range that includes cupcakes, personalized cakes, whole cakes and brownies.

You can read the rest of this article in the July/August Issue of European Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here

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