As the world eases back ever so gradually into everyday rhythms, one promising category that is poised to lead America’s bakery comeback happens to be the birthday cake, symbolic of celebration and a sweet category that brings comfort to all during unsettling times.

Prominent retail experts agree that the cake sector offers significant promise to ease Americans back from the COVID-19 crisis that has enveloped the country since early March.

“Companies that invest during a recession come out ahead,” said Todd Hale, retail insights thought leader and principal for Todd Hale, LLC. “If you’re not thinking about how to get out of this thing with growth ideas, you’re going to be in trouble.”

How does Hale see the bakery shopping climate changing?

On his “what’s next?” list of coming trends, this leading retail expert sees the following trends as pivotal points of distinction:

  • Drive-through operations on steroids
  • Personal protection for shoppers and employees becoming the new norm
  • Innovative shopping carts and contact-free checkout
  • A food fight between food retailers and restaurants turning into a war for dominance and survival
  • Health and wellness taking a short-term hit
  • More focus on digital

On the latter point, bakery industry thought leaders such as Joe Dornoff, who is president of Bake Me A Wish!, a specialty cakes and sweet goods company based in New York City and founded in 2005, see a promising future for their online businesses. “We got online from the start. Now if you look over the past decade, everything is shifting into the digital space,” he said.

Marshall Nyman, account director at Rio SEO, who joined the online specialist after spending 10 years in digital marketing on both the brand and agency sides, points out that for today’s environment the majority of people are interacting with a Google listing before visiting a company website. Research reveals that 64% of consumers visit Google before visiting an individual website. They are doing so to cycle more quickly to the exact place where they want to be online.

“It is really critical to understand that in these times everybody wants to know information beforehand,” Nyman said. “The most important piece of every local search is strategy. This is something every business can take advantage of. There is no reason for businesses to not take advantage of this situation.”

Now even more than ever, accuracy is the critical piece of the pie. Using Google or Yelp allows you to share accurate information about your business with customers. That is why Nyman said it is so important to be accurate with the information you post on your website.

Make sure your attributes are up to date (delivery, pickup, online ordering, partners, etc.). Your website serves as a great tool to keep customers updated, he said, and a couple times a week is valuable. “Communicate just as often as your business is changing – to make sure you take advantage.”

Also, it is extremely important to respond to reviews of any customers. Keeping the lines of communication open is valuable.

“It’s not only the customers you are trying to get, but the customers you already have,” Nyman emphasized. “Tell them what hours you are open. Provide great photos. Make Google posts an everyday part of your routine. Share prominent information (today’s specials, etc.) once or twice a week. Do it as often as it is feasible. You will start to see where your customers are coming from, and it can be surprising. It’s a critical time and Google My Business is a free service. There is no reason not to take advantage of it.”

Well-equipped for growth

Other factors to consider during these critical times involve the equipment your bakery uses to bring innovation to the forefront. With the bakery industry currently facing a shortage of skilled labor due to the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other long-term factors such as an aging workforce, equipment innovations like the Cake Stacker offer valuable solutions for bakery operations seeking out cake automation.

Unifiller Systems, a global leader in cake production equipment, recently announced the Cake Stacker module designed by Apex Motion Control Inc., exclusively distributed by Unifiller Systems. The Cake Stacker is a module addition to Unifiller’s automated cake icing systems for round and sheet layer cakes. It is used to automatically assemble layer cakes following a unique Unifiller Servo midfill system and before the cakes are conveyed for top and side icing and decorating. Ideal for an industrial bakery with volume cake production, the one-of-a-kind Cake Stacker can stack up to 30 individual cake layers a minute for round, quarter and half-sheet cakes. Typical cake production is usually for 2-to 4- layer cakes.

In addition, Unifiller Systems has launched the iFill Depositor, which is intended for bakery and food producers looking to deposit large volumes (up to 31 ounces) in a single deposit, using a simple and compact depositor. The equipment is designed specifically for the needs of central kitchens, retail and instore bakeries. Featuring an ergonomic 1-inch handheld nozzle with 5-foot food grade flexible product hose and a choice of two product cylinders, the iFill depositor pumps and portions product directly from any bowl or container.

“More recently, COVID-19 has demonstrated that businesses are heavily impacted when staff are difficult to retain due to health and safety concerns,” said Sonia Bal, director of marketing at Unifiller Systems. “The current pandemic has been eye opening. Automating what was previously done by hand – for example, using the iFill for batter depositing – can simplify a business’ daily operations.”

The iFill includes optional attachments such as a pail shelf to keep product containers off the floor to avoid contaminants and an optional pie wand for easy pie filling, even on the rack. Although Unifiller expects this new equipment to be used mostly for cake batters and pie fillings, the application possibilities are endless.

Other innovations are bringing efficiency to everyday cake operations. Satin Ice Buttercream Icing Mix is a soft dough-like base that mixes to a light, fluffy buttercream that can be used for covering and decorating, piping flowers and borders, string work, filling, crumb coat, and dessert base. Simply adjust the amount of water to suit your needs: firm, medium or soft. 

With the new Satin Ice Buttercream Icing Mix, it is quick and easy to make great tasting buttercream. By just adding softened butter and water to the mix, you can whip up a beautiful batch in just two minutes. The mix creates a bright white buttercream which is perfect for producing vibrant colors.  It also takes on flavors very well.

In the chocolate sector, Valrhona has introduced Inspiration, a first-ever range of fruit and nut couvertures. This new innovation functions just like chocolate, but it is made entirely with natural fruit or nut ingredients for vibrant colors and flavors.

From Chef Rubber, the new Zen Colored Cocoa Butter Collection offers innovative colors derived purely of the earth, as a pleasing paradox. Bon bons, chocolates and cakes sparkle as the inner glimmer of Zen peacefully plays with ambient light. Zen Cocoa Butter utilizes 100% naturally colored pigment.

Innovation continues to sweep through the cake category, and birthday cakes are poised to never look better, making the prospects for profitability in your business a surer bet than ever before.