It wasn’t long ago that the extent of in-store bakery customization meant writing a name on a birthday cake. Today, however, supermarkets are increasingly realizing profits and a competitive edge from providing shoppers a broad range of options in flavors, shapes, sizes, colors and more.
The global cakes market is in a state of substantial growth, with a compound annual growth rate of more than 3 percent projected from 2016 to 2024, according to a study by Grand View Research.
In addition, separate research from Deloitte found that more than half of millennial consumers globally would pay more for a personalized product—something a number of foodservice channels outside of grocery can’t provide, according to Michelle Tartalio, associate partner at Durham, North Carolina, U.S.-based product advisory firm Clarkston Consulting.
In fact, the ability to customize desserts—from infusing a cupcake with a customer’s favorite flavors to shaping and decorating a cake to look like a pet—can help bring shoppers into the store and place supermarkets ahead of the competition.
“Customized gateaux are becoming an increasingly popular trend amidst customers looking for a unique and meaningful token to share with their friends and family,” says Ellie Leacroft, head of group marketing at Patisserie Valerie, a chain of bakery cafes that has patisserie counters in roughly 50 Sainsbury’s supermarkets across the U.K. “From ordering a bespoke gateaux online to enjoying ‘instant’ in-store customization, the ability to personalize your gateau to make a celebration all the more special is increasingly sought after.”
Custom cake offerings have always been popular at Patisserie Valerie, Leacroft says, but the company has experienced an increase in demand since adding the Create a Cake feature to its website in 2015. The interactive, multi-step tool lets customers choose between two types of sponge cake, first and second layers of cream, a fruit filling, side and top decorations and a ribbon color.
“Patisserie Valerie predicts that with such a rise in customers wanting a unique centerpiece to complement their celebrations, the popularity of personalized gateaux will only increase,” Leacroft says.
This growing desire for custom desserts has been fueled in part by social media, where customers can find inspiration (from sources like Pinterest) as well as share details about their lives with family and friends, Tartalio says.
“People want to post memories in the best possible light, having specific bakery items that are unique,” she says. “They don’t want to throw the same birthday party as their neighbor.”
To determine what customization options to offer, Tartalio suggests stores cater to their particular demographics.
“We see a lot of consumer product companies using data and analytics,” she says. “There’s no reason [in-store] bakeries can’t do the same thing.
They could easily send out a survey to consumers to ask about their interest and preferences to drive differentiation.”
Supermarket bakeries can also tap the expertise of their suppliers for insights into market trends and consumer preferences.
To ensure customization is profitable, in-store bakeries may need to charge more for some options, according to Marcia Schurer, president and founder of Chicago, U.S.-based foodservice consulting company Culinary Connections.
“In many instances, customers are asking for higher-quality ingredients; the costs can be more expensive,” Schurer says. “It’s like a car: If you want luxury extras, the price goes up.”
Leacroft concurs. “In-store customization, whilst very popular, tends to come at an increased cost for companies owing to the fact that a more skilled labor force is required in all locations where ‘instant’ personalization is an option,” she says. “This also means that increased stock needs to be held in said locations so as to accommodate the particular needs of the customer, such as piping materials for a customized message.”
To keep expenses in check, Patisserie Valerie sets a base price per portion for custom cakes and then adds extra costs based on the intricacy of the design.
In addition to factoring these considerations into pricing, supermarkets can conduct market research to assess what other bakeries in their region are charging and ensure they remain competitive.
To meet demand around busy periods like holidays, in-store bakeries need to schedule staff strategically.
"When you start getting into more personalized flavor profiles, it really is labor-intensive," Schurer says. "You still have to fill all the display cases in the store."
She recommends scheduling additional staff outside of peak hours. “Using downtime doesn’t interrupt production of everything else,” she says.
Seeking out temporary workers with the necessary skill set, or asking decorators if they’d be willing to take on extra shifts, can also help during busy times.
Even with sufficient staffing, however, in-store bakeries may find customers’ requests for a quick turnaround challenging. It’s important to set expectations with shoppers upfront to avoid setting unrealistic precedents—which doesn’t necessarily mean turning down orders, but rather, compromising to achieve their vision in a way that’s realistic for the given time frame.
“If a customer orders a bespoke cake, he or she can either provide a description of what they are looking for or provide a photograph representing their unique vision,” Leacroft says. “This is then sent to one of Patisserie Valerie’s expert cake artists, who assesses whether the particular request is something they can produce to the customer’s unique specifications and time frame.”
Showing that, despite time constraints, you’re dedicated to meeting customers’ needs can provide a positive shopping experience—and, in turn, produce invaluable publicity for the department.
It’s an evolving time for bakeries, due in part to the influence and power of social media and speed of technology. To stay on top of customers’ changing tastes, ensure your supermarket bakery can meet the demand for customized orders.