Take and Decorate: A Holiday Hack Your Customers Will Love

By Judy Sutton Taylor
Supermarkets find success with take and decorate items

Come holiday time, visions of freshly baked treats dance in the heads of home cooks. But the reality is that the hustle and bustle of the holiday season leaves many shoppers looking for shortcuts at the dinner table. That’s where take-and-decorate cakes, cookies and other baked goods come in.

The take-and-decorate concept is easier still than take-and-bake: Instead of offering packaged par-baked goods, the bakery does most of the work of pre-baking goods and prepackaging icing and decoration, and customers put finishing touches in their own kitchens for that homespun illusion. This trend is particularly appealing during the holidays, when parties, cookie exchanges and family baking are popular activities. 

“We see an especially high demand for take-home decorating kits including sugar cookies, and gingerbread cookies and houses at holiday time,” says Kristen Schooley, the catering and sales manager at Sweet Flour Bakery Shop in Toronto, Canada. “People love the idea of doing everything from scratch, but it’s not realistic from a time standpoint, so we do some of the legwork for them. These kits help customers share an activity with their families and create something unique without sacrificing precious time or—when it comes to small kids—making a big mess.”

Beyond being a time-saver for holiday hosting, customers can turn to take-and-decorate kits for gift-giving purposes, too. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said they planned to give homemade gifts, such as baked goods and crafts, during the holiday season, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll. 

So how do you make this trend work in your bakery? 

A good place to start is by playing into nostalgia. Two-thirds of respondents in the Pew poll said they typically made homemade Christmas and holiday gifts when they were growing up. Think gingerbread men and houses, and sugar cookies decorated with winter symbols like candy canes and mittens.

Then, mark your calendars for when you’ll need to have take-and-decorate options available for consumers. Keep in mind that Christmas and Thanksgiving (and the week of the holidays and the week after) are the top major holidays when baked goods are consumed, according to a 2015 study by The NPD Group, commissioned by Dawn Foods. During this time, figure out just how many kits you can put out to still make a profit. 

In addition to taking custom orders for decorating kits, which include four sugar cookies, two small tubes of icing and a bag of mixed sprinkles, Sweet Flour sells its seasonal Mini Deco Kits in its online store. “Determining the correct amount of inventory was trial and error,” Schooley says. When the product first launched, Sweet Flour placed 10 kits on its shelves, and has since scaled up or down based on upcoming holidays and consumer sales each month. “Also helpful was that the kits have a great shelf life, so we didn't worry if we overstocked.” 

Next, pinpoint your offerings. Really work hard to identify what customers in your area will want to serve up to their guests during this period of time. Start off small with two offerings for Thanksgiving to keep costs manageable and confirm appetite for this trend. 

In addition to including cookie shapes that reflect the season (like snowmen and mittens) in take-and-decorate kits, Sweet Flour uses brightly colored frostings and sprinkles to appeal to children, among whom the bakery’s kits are popular.

Finally, don’t forget to promote the kits. Creating eye-catching displays with examples of finished products is essential to marketing take-and-decorate items, says Schooley. “Have a pre-assembled version of the kit packaged attractively, perhaps with nice ribbon and all the contents easily visible,” she says, noting that Sweet Flour packaged mini decorating kits containing icing and sprinkles in clear, Chinese-takeout style containers alongside its cookies. “And also display examples of the end results,” says Schooley. “Visuals of the before-and-after are key to keep the customer engaged and show the potential of the products. It’s important to connect the dots for people.”

Take-and-decorate items can be a key part of holiday sales as consumers are faced with more and more to do in less and less time, Schooley points out. “These items respond to customer need,” she says. Not to mention, they’re also a lot of fun.