Capitalizing on graduation season with themed cakes and other items can provide an influx of business for bakeries.
“Whether it’s a child graduating kindergarten or a teenager graduating high school, it’s a milestone in somebody’s life,” says Aliz John, director of opportunities and engagement at Eleni’s New York, which sells diploma scroll, mortarboard and personalized cookies for grad parties and gifts. “Graduation is always a popular time of year for us. People want something that really acknowledges the honored recipient.”
And with increased competition around events like graduation from other artisanal bakeries, supermarkets, big-box retailers and specialty eateries, owners can ensure they’re staying ahead with products that meet consumers’ desire for treats that aren’t just delicious, but customized and unique.
Sofia Takas, owner of Serano Bakery in Toronto, attributes customers’ burgeoning desire for distinctive items to increased social media use. “Since Pinterest came around, everybody has more options about what they see and want,” Takas
says. “Everybody comes in with pictures.”
Serano, which opened in 1994, offers a basic graduation cake decorated with a hat and scroll. And in recent years, it’s seen an uptick in custom orders, including cakes shaped like graduation caps and stacks of books.
A custom college graduation cake created by Serano Bakery in Toronto
While graduation motifs are classic for a reason, not all customers are interested in going the traditional route. For example, one creative customer comissioned Life Sweet Inc. chef and owner Melissa Merino to create a cake featuring a fondant owl dressed as a graduate.
Graduation cake with fondant owl from Life’s Sweet Inc. in Chicago, Illinois.
While showstoppers like these are great on their own, many customers are also interested in additional add-ons.
“There’s a trend of people wanting more than just cake; they want different things, like decorated cookies or cake pops,” says Not Jus’ Donuts operations manager Andrea Spears. “It gives them a varierty. Everybody may not eat cake, but they may want a cupcake or cookie.”
To tap into this, the Houston bakery offers smaller celebratory sweets, such as cake pops decorated with graduation caps made of chocolate.
For customers who have more than one idea for their graduation dessert, bakeries can accommodate them by offering a product that allows for multiple design options, like a batch of cupcakes.
“They like different options,” says John, whose bakery offers customizable graduation cookie sets. “Somebody’s graduate school picture, a love of a club or sorority—really showing who the person is and their accomplishments, more so than when people order cookies for a Christmas or birthday party.”
Because social media can offer a vast range of inspiration, though, it’s important to communicate clearly with customers to ensure the bakery fully grasps—and can meet—their expectations. Having photos of past creations readily available, both on the bakery website and in the store (either in print albums or on tablets), can help guide consumers who have an idea of what imagery they’d like on their graduation dessert, but haven’t yet picked the specific design style or colors.
In addition to providing customers ideas, social media can help bakeries gauge interest in certain products and communicate with order-placers. According to John, Eleni’s tracks engagement on her posts on Facebook and Instagram, and
looks at past sales and growth projections, to determine what production numbers it should hit during graduation season.
“We get a pulse from people calling a lot or asking questions on social media,” she says. “Our customers are very interactive with us about what they like and want.”
Serano now gets more inquiries and order requests through social media than its website, according to Takas. These interactions can be more time-consuming to handle, since customers on social media give fewer details than those who fill out the website’s order request form. “It’s not just posting pictures,” Takas says. To better manage this communication, the bakery added a social media coordinator four years ago.
While many customers know to preorder their graduation cakes and other custom treats well in advance, not everyone is so forward-thinking. To capture sales from last-minute celebration planners once graduation season begins, bakeries may want to stock their cases with prepared desserts than can be easily transformed into themed treats. For example, vanilla buttercreme-topped cupcakes can quickly be decorated with sprinkles or edible pearls in school colors. Bakeries may also consider stocking small plastic toppers like graduation caps or diploma scrolls to sell alongside birthday candles.
A graduation-themed cake and cookie set from Bunnycakes bakery in Berlin, New Jersey
Another way to serve customers who haven’t placed orders far enough in advance to get a fully custom creation is to work off of existing designs for other celebrations. “If the production schedule doesn’t allow for custom
gifts, or something is sold out, we always try to find something that’s close,” John says. “For instance, we have cute get-well cookies that could work for a person graduating from med school. Our superhero gift set has been popular
around graduation; the customer will provide a photo of the graduating student, and we’ll print their face on the superhero on the cookie.”
A strong balance of creativity and customer service can help bakers capitalize on graduation desserts.