A focus on health helps the muffin expand its reach.
When it comes to handheld baked products, the cupcake seems to get all the glory. With its recent stratospheric success, the cupcake has seemingly relegated its huskier cousin, the muffin, to the shadows. But with the cupcake craze running into its umpteenth year, and health warnings being trumpeted from every direction, the muffin’s time may have finally come.
That the muffin already appeals to many consumers is a moot point.
“Muffins have and will continue to be a popular baked product because of their many benefits,” says Brett Boyer, sales and marketing specialist for Main Street Gourmet, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. “They are handheld, come in a wide variety of flavors and sizes, are convenient and are prevalent in all types of food stores.”
But sales figures show they are becoming a breakfast force to be reckoned with. Sales of frozen muffins are up nearly 40 percent this year, indicating that consumers appreciate having a go-to option that they perceive to be healthful. For companies looking to get their muffins in consumers’ hands, the freezer case looks to be the way to go.
Uncle Wally’s Muffin Co. is one such company expanding into the frozen aisle.
“It’s a way to get additional distribution to consumers,” explains Jerry Cecchio, vice president of marketing and sales for the Shirley, N.Y.-based manufacturer. “Getting into frozen muffins offers us the opportunity to take a successful category and take it national.”
Uncle Wally’s is keeping its eye on several other possible avenues, including the emergent gluten-free niche. Although specialty bakeries like Udi’s and French Meadow Bakery currently rule the gluten-free muffin market, the trend is gathering enough steam among the general populace that food processors are taking note.
“We feel the celiac community is growing due to better diagnosis, and we’re reading new research suggesting the general public is showing interest in wheat-free products as a dietary concern, so it may be a market for us to explore further,” Cecchio says. “We didn’t dive into the low-carb craze, since we felt it wasn’t going to have legs and result in long-term growth. But with gluten-free it seems a portion of the public is looking at taking wheat out of their diet. This may give us the impetus to explore a gluten-free muffin.”
Main Street Gourmet already produces muffins free from gluten, but since they are produced in the same facility as muffins containing gluten, the company cannot market them from the gluten-free angle. Joel Payne, manager of bakery product development and technical service for The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, says his company employs a watch-and-wait philosophy when it comes to product trends.
“We’re staying with the tried and true [varieties],” he explains. “As niche market products transition into mainstream ones, we’ll consider producing them, but not until that transition occurs.”
But with health-oriented claims growing exponentially, the mainstream muffin is becoming a trickier thing to define. 100-calorie, all-natural, high-fiber, whole grain, no-sugar-added–there’s now a muffin for every dietary concern. And that’s one claim the cupcake can’t top.