There is nothing like attending a trade show to rejuvenate and reinspire. This month is full of bakery shows, one of which is Europain in Paris. Walking the show floor, you can find bakery at its finest, and it didn't take long to notice that the traditional stacked and filled macaron, or the double decker macaron, was everywhere.
Last month, I speculated whether macarons were going to be the next cupcake. In Paris, they are as ubiquitous as cupcakes are in the United States. Like cupcakes, you can find them everywhere from McDonald's to the fanciest pastry shops, including Ladurée. And, also like cupcakes, the price varies greatly.
I decided to do my own comparison: were the macarons from Ladurée that much different than the macarons from McDonald's McCafé? The first and most obvious difference was the price. McDonald's macarons cost €4.90 for six, while Ladurée's macarons were about €14 for six.
Ingredient costs would be one of the obvious reasons for the price difference. I don't know where each get their ingredients or even what ingredients they use, but I would guess that Ladurée spends more for ingredients than McDonald's, which, as a fast food restaurant, needs to keep ingredient costs low.
The more obvious reasons for the price difference is product presentation. Ladurée's macarons were available in several different containers, including a cardboard jewel box that held six macarons. The cost of €14 was a little more palatable when I knew I'd get a cute keepsake to take home. In comparison, the McDonald's macarons came in a plain white box.
As for the quality of the product itself, it is true to some degree that you get what you pay for, but for €4.90, the McDonald's macaron was worth it. Was it the best macaron ever? Not by a long shot, but with the chain's multiple locations and lower price, it makes the product attractive. Ladurée only has three Paris locations, so it doesn't offer the easy accessibility of McDonald's.
So what relevance does my little experiment have, besides providing me with an excuse to run around Paris and eat macarons? As bakers, you can find benefits in positioning yourself as a McDonald's or a Ladurée-you just have to decide which fits your business goals best. Offering a good-quality product for a low price will attract customers, but so will creating a high-quality product with beautiful presentation, even if it costs three times a much. The challenge is finding the perfect balance between price and quality.
As bakery products become available from more and more nontraditional outlets, the latest being convenience stores with extensive bakery product lines, traditional bakeries need to find ways to distinguish themselves and establish a niche. If you decide to be a McDonald's, keep packaging costs low in order to maintain profit margins on your lower priced products. If you decide to be a Ladurée, make sure the customer experience justifies the high price of your products. This includes everything, from product packaging to the ambiance of your shop; high prices require good experiences.