In an industry where satisfying customer cravings is key, bakers are always on the hunt to offer the product that customers can't seem to live without. For the past several years it has been cupcakes — they seem to have taken the country by storm.
While always a part of the bakery demographic, they exploded onto the scene in a big way early in the last decade. They morphed from a childhood treat into an adult indulgence. Cupcakes have grown up, with toppings and flavorings as varied as the people who buy them. The national appetite for this sweet treat has given rise to an abundance of cupcake bakeries. Barely a week goes by that I don't receive notice of a new cupcake bakery opening somewhere in the country.
And while cupcakes don't seem to be vanishing from the landscape any time soon, what's next? The previous “big” product was bagels. Bagel bakeries were everywhere in the 1990s, and while bagels are still a staple for many consumers and bakeries, most of those bagel bakeries had to expand, usually into bakery cafés, to remain viable. The core product remains bagels, but they now feature a larger supporting cast of products.
Foodies are already out there on their blogs proclaiming what the next cupcake is going to be. Many predict it will be whoopie pies. Whether this treat originated in the South or Maine or Pennsylvania's Amish country, it was proclaimed to be the “it” dessert for 2010 by the Chicago Tribune. The product incorporates many of the elements of what consumers like about cupcakes: it's portable, can be eaten without utensils, and it is generally sold as an individual treat. Its two layers of cake sandwiched together with icing or a marshmallow-like cream combine the same key parts of a cupcake, just slightly rearranged. Again, the product allows for a variety of interpretations of cake and icing flavor combinations.
A more cookie-like product with the same basic construction as a whoopie pie, macaroons also are gaining traction. This traditional French treat again offers almost limitless possibilities for cookie and filling combinations.
Even donuts may be mounting a fight to dethrone the cupcake. But it won't be a simple, glazed puff of dough, but rather a gourmet or designer donut that features exotic flavors. Some bakers are even going the savory route, similar to some cupcake varieties, by offering donuts with bacon, an increasingly popular savory element in baked products.
While it remains to be seen what will succeed cupcakes as America's favorite treat, the next big thing will most likely retain the elements that make cupcakes popular to begin with: easy to grab and eat, small in size and with almost limitless flavor combinations that allow bakeries to make the product truly their own.