Tag Archives: food trend

How the Recession Became the Cupcake’s Best Friend

cupcakeHow the Cupcake Craze Began
It all started on the popular TV show, Sex and the City, when Carrie bit into a decadent cupcake made by the small New York-based shop, Magnolia Bakery. Soon the bakery was making cameos on movies and TV shows as well, such as The Devil Wears Prada, Prime, and Spin City. The small shop that started out with only three employees in 1996 baking four types of bread quickly figured out that bread-baking proved to be too time-consuming, so it quickly switched over to making desserts and focusing on cupcakes. Magnolia Bakery quickly grew to having several shops around the city and even introduced its brand in Dubai in 2010. It’s now raking in an average of $20 million dollars per year. And to think, it all started with three employees and some cupcakes.
The Cupcake: Here to Stay?
While many critics dismissed the cupcake craze as a fad that will quickly pass, it has proved to be a food trend that has staying power. As the economy weakened and many people lost their jobs, cupcake sales shot up as a surge of local cupcake-only bakeries popped up around the nation. According to market research firm, NPD, 669.4 million cupcakes were sold between October 2010 and 2011. With little money left to spend on the big-ticket items, cupcakes became an indulgence that was affordable. While these gourmet cupcakes aren’t going to cost you $1.00-2.00 like the cupcakes you’ll find at your local grocery, it seems consumers are eager to spend a little extra on such a small luxury. The Washington Post reported on the cupcake bakery trend, quoting Paul Sapienza, vice president for the Retail Bakers of America, who declared of cupcakes, “They are cute. They are an economic treat, which helps out in the recession. They are a little decadent, so you get cake, frosting and sometimes filling all at the same time.” Yet, in their report, The Washington Post declared that the trend would fade. They were wrong. According to an article in About.com, Packaged Facts Fresh Baked Goods in the U.S “…projects that the market will grow by 26% between 2009 and 2014, to reach $20.1 billion at retail.”

Gourmet cupcake shops have become so trendy that L.A.-based bakery, Sprinkles, is now establishing a 24-hour cupcake-dispensing ATM in New York City for patrons that need to grub on their goodness during the late-night hours.  Now that’s customer service!

Brides Choosing To Serve Cupcakes Instead of Tiered Cakes At Wedding Receptions
The decadent, yet economic, dessert is even affecting the wedding industry; many brides are choosing cupcakes to serve to guests over the traditional tiered wedding cake, which has, in the past, proven to be an expensive part of the wedding reception. The cupcake is not only economical, but also comes in a variety of flavors. Is the bride a coffee lover? She can choose a coffee-flavored cupcake with chocolate frosting. Is the wedding in November, close to Thanksgiving? The cupcakes can be pumpkin-pie flavored. Does anyone in the wedding party need gluten or dairy-free cupcakes? Those are also an option. The varieties of flavor and levels of creativity are endless, without the price tag of a traditional tiered wedding cake. The impact of serving cupcakes at weddings has even affected Hollywood—in 2010, country star Carrie Underwood cupcakesserved cupcakes during her reception when she married hockey pro, Mike Fisher. While most brides are choosing cupcakes over tiered cake for economic reasons, celebrities are choosing them more for the “coolness” factor.
The Recession and Cupcake Sales Go Hand-In-Hand
Although the economy has tanked in the last five years, with many Americans without jobs, struggling to pay mortgages or car payments, it seems the cupcake is a diamond in the rough. Even though each small cake sells for $4.00-6.00 a piece at a gourmet “cupcakery”, it seems a small price to pay for such gooey goodness that can help us escape for a short, but sweet while.

Twists, Turns and Trends for the Modern Food Truck

The original incarnation of a mobile meal was usually a late night last resort or a pit stop for lunch on a busy day, not necessarily somewhere you’d think of waiting in hour-long lines.  They were home to common street fare such as your average hot dog or maybe a generic sandwich.  No longer is any of this the case.   Food carts are now the trendiest hot spot, a place with loyal followers who expect nothing less than gourmet cuisine…at a reasonable price, of course.

FoodTruckToday you can truly get just about any type of delicacy just by walking down the street (and probably waiting anywhere from 10-40 minutes).  An article on Eater.com, says that the Rib Whip truck in San Francisco boasts it’s on-board smoker, to serve up pulled-pork and beef brisket.  To add even more variety to the bunch, Coolhaus, itself peddling gourmet ice cream sandwiches, has developed a food truck…for dogs.  The Phydough Truck, launched on January 8th in Los Angeles, serves up cookies, ice cream and bake-at-home dough in such flavors as Duck Fat, PB & Bacon and Foie Gras, all of which can be eaten by man’s best friend and their human.

Why the sudden shift to mobile food (other than the fabulous fare)?  Like everything else, the economy has had its effect on the restaurant world.  In a Los Angeles Times article, former Hermosa Beach mayor and current owner of Barbie’s Q, John Bowler, said that it cost only about $40,000 to open his truck about $160,000 less than a brick-and-mortar restaurant.   That’s not to mention that while most restaurants stress about location, location, location, if your place is on wheels, you can pick and go where the customers are.

Unique advertising and good timing can also be thanked for the boost in trucks in a downturn economy.  Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites have played a huge part in the transportation food industry.  Owners and workers can simply put up a status with today’s specials or tweet their lunch location, head there with their goods and (TA-DA!) throngs of customers.  Well, there is a bit more to it, but that is the basis of many of these roaming restaurant’s marketing plans.  John Ban, of West Coast Tacos in Indianapolis, said, “Social Networking has been a great advantage for our business because we have not spent any money on marketing.”  He went on to touch on just why this new tech tool is so invaluable.  “We have a more personal relationship with our customers through social media.  It allows us to interact with our fans around the city very easily,” said Ban.  However, like any business, especially a new one, timing is always the easiest in with an audience.  Ban’s West Coast Tacos, saw the food truck boom in other cities, like L.A., and felt the time was right to jump on the chance to be the first to start up the trend in Indy.

If low costs and cheap marketing are making you want to jump in your van and serve up some grub of your own, you may want to first know that there are some significant downsides the non-traditional restaurant scene as well.

The major bump in the road for so many vendors has been getting permits for serving in a vehicle.  Many cities have strict rules about what can and cannot be done inside a vehicle, which can put a damper on serving items that aren’t pre-packaged in a kitchen before the day begins.   In recent weeks, several articles have come up on crack downs on food trucks in Chicago.  One such article, on food.change.org, said that “Chicago officials claim that these anti-food truck ordinances (no altering food and parking up to 200 feet from a restaurant) exist in order to protect consumers’ health and safety.”  However, in Chicago and many other cities, a majority of the squabble has been that restaurant owners worry about having food trucks competition, park right outside their business and taking away customers.

Another obstacle the vehicles face is also due to that wonderful upside mentioned earlier: location.  While it’s beneficial to be able to cruise around to customers, being relatively unsheltered from the elements can pose a few problems.  Going out in the frigid, frosty mess for lunch can be a little less than inviting which cuts down on customers.  In an article in The Washington Post when asked how the cold has affected business, “Operators of four trucks say their sales have dropped by 40 to 50 percent from peak numbers.”  That isn’t even taking into account money lost on food, gas, etc. that must be spent on a daily basis to keep the business going and those inside the trucks warm enough to operate.

So far these obstacles haven’t stopped food truck operators from working on fresh and creative ways to keep on going.  In Oregon, many mobile businesses are attempting to get licensing to sell alcohol, according to OregonLive.com.   The article states that selling brews would give owners of food trucks the chance to “make a living in the increasingly crowded Portland food-cart industry while also attracting customers to neighboring mobile restaurants.”   And while not a possibility at the moment, there may even come a day when a restaurant may not only sport wheels, but also wings.  Recently an article on Curbed Los Angeles even reported that an architecture class at USC, taught by Jennifer Siegal, challenged students to create the future of the business.  Submissions included everything from wings that caught rain water for future use to a donut delivery system that will drive over a car and drop in pastries and coffee.

Until wings can be made small enough to prevent trucks from hitting passersby, before a new super social media site is created and pending any delicious new delicacies, the success of food trucks today and in the future can be summed up with this advice, courtesy of John Ban:  “Make sure your product is of very high quality, because the number one reason why our business grew was because our Tacos were made from the best ingredients and meats. This created numerous return customers for us and they spread the word about our Taco Truck. Word of mouth is the strongest form of marketing. People always listen to recommendations from another person, but people don’t always pay attention to commercials or advertisements.”