The spring cake season can come out of nowhere. The madness of the winter holiday season subsides and is followed, in many regions, by a cold spell that drive shoppers in doors with no reason to purchase cakes.
And then, as suddenly as the trees begin to bloom, the rush is on for graduation parties, Mother’s Day, Easter, first communions and more.
That’s why it’s important to use the slow winter months to plan ahead, says Lynn Schurman, owner of Cold Spring Bakery in Cold Spring, Minnesota.
“We use this time of year to plan out what we’re going to sell and then we come up with designs that we’re going to do,” Schurman says. “We do the prototypes, get pictures, send the marketing out so that we’ve got designs that are fast and easy to do and everybody knows what their options are versus our decorators having to stop and think ‘OK, how should I decorate this cake?’ it makes it much faster taking orders.”
Schurman says Cold Spring Bakery usually comes up with six to 12 new designs for most seasons, but will increase that for the spring, which consumers seem to want more options. Designs are created, dummies are made, and photos are taken for consumers and for the company’s supermarket customers.
Throwing another wrench into the process this year is the relative early April 1 date for Easter.
“With Eastern being earlier, we’re having to work on some of these ideas sooner than we usually plan on,” Schurman says. “It’s all about being prepared.”
That preparation even extends to employee training. Instead of looking at the winter months as a chance to cut labor costs to the bone, that time can be used to teach employees new skills.
“We do a lot of internal training. I know some businesses try to cut labor costs way down when it’s quiet, and we do as much as possible, but we also want to take advantage of the time we do have to get people trained,” Schurman says. “When it starts getting busy, I want people who know how do hold a decorating bag and do some of the designs we’ve come up with. Do it now while it’s quiet and there are snow storms and people aren’t shopping.”
It also makes sense to use the time leading up to spring to find employees who have shown the potential to decorate cakes and make sure they know the ropes. If they can learn the basics, they can be valuable team members in the busy times, working on sheet cakes or decorating cookies and other orders.
“We look for attitude when it comes to potential decorators,” says Schurman. “We want people who want to learn new things. And we also try and look for people who have shown any kind of artistic flair in the past. Sometimes you can tell by the way someone is arranging displays or if they understand color.”
And, just as with every other aspect of the business, efficiency is an important trait. When the busy season hits, those potential decorators must be able to jump in and get it done.
“Sometimes we run into people who are very artistic, but they don’t understand that we’re trying to make a profit on cakes,” Schurman says. “They want to be artistic and do every cake different and spend time to add extra stuff to each cake. We try to weed those people out before we get to the busy times.”
When it comes to graduation cakes and other spring cakes like Easter– and Mother’s Day-themed pieces, the most influential trends are those that shy away from tradition, says Shawna LaMott with Lucks Food Decorating Company.
For graduation cakes, think bold, multi-colors instead of traditional black and gold. Even school colors seem to be going stagnant. Also prepare for clever takes on modern young adult life.
“Sheet cakes are always a popular sale for graduation and can be updated with growing trends like cheeky messages or images found in social media,” says LaMott. “Puns like ‘Welcome to Adulthood’ or ‘Go on with your grad self,’ along with piled-high sweets keep the party celebratory rather than scholarly.”
Spring cakes are seeing success with a move away from traditional pastels and toward strong, natural elements, like decorations with textures and details from nature. Think foraged foliage, wildflowers and agate. Natural color is growing in demand.
“Alternatively, the colorful and cheeky trends can apply to Mother’s Day and Easter cakes as well,” LaMott says. “Easter can be bright instead of pastel with simple, high-color graphics like fried eggs or retro candies. Puns like ‘Eggcellent’ add humor to Easter cakes, while Mother’s Day messages are often delivered on a dessert. Watch for color splatters and creative brush strokes.”
But to truly be prepared for a profitable spring season, Schurman says, you might have to be prepared to go easy on the cakes.
“Right now people are not buying as many cakes as they have in the past,” she says. “We’re doing a lot of cupcakes. We’re trying to figure out new designs to incorporate more options with cupcakes for graduation parties and events. Really, anything we can do to use them right now is important, because that’s what people are looking for. They’re not necessarily looking for cakes.”
Options that Cold Spring Bakery have used are decorating cupcakes and arranging them in the shape of a cross for Easter, or for the influx of first communion cakes Schurman says her business sees in the spring. Or cupcakes and a sheet cake can be combined in a design; the sheet cake decorated to look like a stained-glass window and the cupcakes arranged in a shape.
“We’re also trying to figure out if there are other kinds of desserts that can be incorporated,” she says. “Not all graduation parties are doing cakes anymore. They’re looking for other options and we try to come up with new ideas, whether it’s using cookies, brownies or anything like that.”
For graduation parties, consumers are looking for unique ideas like ice cream sundae bars, bowls of candies in the school’s colors and more, all of which can be incorporated to boost cake sales.
LaMott says a cost-effective way to respond to these current trends to by adding trendy details and style to desserts that don’t require a lot of time for decorating.
“Pre-made edible decorations are a great solution,” she says. “Lucks is always studying and updating our seasonal decorations to inspire decorators year after year. Our wholesale products are easy to apply and look great on social media.”
Regardless, Schurman says, there are seasons when bakers need to admit that cakes alone might not be the most profitable option.
“People have to look at other options. I heard somebody complaining because their cake business is down and asking what they can do to improve it,” she says. “My whole thing to other bakers is to look beyond cakes to increase your business. Decorate everything out. Decorate donuts, brownies whatever you can.
“It’s the same still and sometimes you’re even looking at higher margin items in those other categories. If you focus on complaining that the cake business isn’t there, you’re probably not going to increase your sales. But you will by adding new products and new options.”