“People want colorful and fun,” points out Ashley Illchuk, who runs Jenna Rae Cakes in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, with her twin sister Jenna. Ashley is the graphic designer, and Jenna is the cake designer. They started their business eight years ago and transformed it into an internet sensation with millions of online followers.

Consumers want more vibrant colors, as well as metallic. One of Jenna Rae Cakes’ standout creations reimagined a giant golf ball on the 17th green for The Players Club golf championship.

“We also did a six-tier wedding cake in October,” Jenna said during their recent cake demonstration at the International Baking Industry Expo in Las Vegas. “People still like that wow factor.”

In addition to their bakery, the twins have parlayed their popular customer following into a successful sales avenue for special treats and cake and sweet goods decorations.

One holiday product is Candy Cane Popcorn, a candy cane candied popcorn tinted a lovely shade of pastel pink and is topped with candy cane white chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy cane. Need a stocking stuffer or a delicious gift? Package the popcorn in cellophane bags and tie with a ribbon.

For all the aspiring or enthusiastic bakers that love the most iconic flavor of the season, they offer the perfect gift. Packaged in an adorable, reusable bag, each Candy Cane Baking Set comes with 24k Magic Edible Glitter.

In October 2020, they published their first cookbook Jenna Rae Cakes and Sweet Treats with Penguin Random House, which quickly became a best-seller. They made their TV debut as judges on Wall of Bakers on the Food Network. Their business and beautiful baked goods have been featured on The Food Network, NBC, The Globe and Mail, CTV’s The Social, Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine and more. You can also see their work as food stylists on the Hallmark Channel, and they’ve collaborated with brands like Amex, The Golf Channel, Smash and Tess, Benefit Cosmetics, Smirnoff, Coach, Mercedes Benz and more.

In their book Jenna Rae Cakes and Sweet Treats, Jenna and Ashley reveal the tried-and-true recipes, flavors, and show-stopping designs that put them on the map. Inside you will find recipes for over 100 of the most vibrant and decadent cookie sandwiches, cupcakes, party squares, cakes, macarons, cream puffs, and more. Known for the long list of rotating flavor options they offer each day at the shop, Jenna Rae Cakes and Sweet Treats features all of their fan favorites, including Cotton Candy Cupcakes, Lemon Meringue Party Squares, Salted Caramel Macarons, Peanut Butter and Jam Cookie Sandwiches, Salted Dark Chocolate Espresso Cake, and many more. 

Tactics and tools

As part of the IBIE 2022’s education platform, Alexis Gilbert, senior director, Global Brand and Communication at Dawn Foods, shared how bakers can leverage these tools and platforms to drive traffic and sales during a session titled “Breaking Through the Digital Noise: Strategies, Tactics and Tools to Get Your Bakery Noticed Online.”

Throughout the pandemic, she noted, we’ve witnessed a rise in consumers leaning more heavily into online channels, engaging with businesses digitally through social media and visiting websites to learn more, all while prioritizing efficiency and convenience. In a recent Salesforce survey, 85% of consumers conduct research before they make a purchase online, and among the most used channels for research are websites (74%) and social media (38%).

Because of this, bakeries had to pivot toward these online tools to better reach and engage customers. Many bakers have made significant progress throughout the pandemic, adapting to a more digitized experience and incorporating services like online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery to better serve their customers, all while still maintaining and promoting a desirable in-store experience.

“We’ve also seen consumer appetite grow in terms of understanding what a business stands for – what their values are, what sets them apart from other businesses, and even how they are sourcing their ingredients. Having a clear understanding of this as a business and communicating each of these on your channels is becoming more and more important,” Gilbert said.

Dawn Foods anticipates many consumer habits that were created during the pandemic to stick around. For example, customers still prefer the convenience that comes through options such as online ordering, delivery and curbside pickup.

As more customers rely on online channels, bakeries will have to adapt to stay ahead. Starting with the basics, this means maintaining a website so customers can easily find the bakery online and ensuring digital tools are in place such as online ordering to offer added convenience to customers.

“Your business’s website is your ownable space online and where you’re driving consumers to from any social media channel you’re activating on,” Gilbert says. “Ensuring everything your customer needs to know about your business and information on how to purchase your products are up to date is critical. Your website is your digital storefront and should be updated on a regular basis.”

Once your website is in a good spot, claiming your Google Business listing, using Google My Business to update your offers and images regularly, as well as claiming and updating your Yelp profile are also ways that make it easier for customers to engage with and buy from you.

For social media, she continued, different channels can provide a better business return over others. The good thing is, anything can be content – preparing for the day’s bake, sharing limited-time offers, showcasing your incredible staff – can all be used across all channels. To avoid becoming overwhelmed with options, set goals and benchmarks for the results you want to get out of each channel, and test out content options for each. If you do not have a dedicated marketing or social media team, having an updated profile and account on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok is great from a searchability standpoint. Ensuring your website and contact information is accurate is a minimum requirement.

“From there, it’s about testing out which content is producing the results you’re looking for like driving traffic to your store and website, sign-ups for loyalty programs, or coupon redemption,” Gilbert says. “The goal of any tool or social media account is to make finding and ordering from a business easier for the customer. Making sure your location, hours and menus are up to date are the most important things to keep updated on a regular basis. If you use third-party delivery tools or partners, keeping your profile for those tools accurate ensures customers get the information they need to make an informed purchase. For social media, linking to where customers can get more information and learn about your products is critical. Sites to create unique links or QR codes are helpful when measuring actions against your efforts.”

Custom molds

Another headliner at IBIE, British cake decorating expert Molly Robbins taught a French Bulldog class, using the molds that she designed and manufactures.

 It's basically like a universal 3D cake mold system. So you make a 3D cake in the shape of any creature or character,” she points out. She studied art and special effects in school, and worked in television and film.

“A lot of people go into cake decorating and learn the airbrushing, but for me I learned the airbrushing and it got me into cake decorating. I watched all your cool American TV programs and was like, I want to have a go at that. That looks so fun. I mean there's no magic solution. It's just word of mouth,” Robbins says. “I've been doing cakes now for the same families for their christening, and then their wedding, and their baby's first birthday and 2nd birthday and 3rd. So that is really nice. It's really cool to be a part of people's lives.

“You know you can have 100,000 followers on Instagram, but at the same time, certainly from a revenue perspective as well, my income and my name are rooted in the repeat customers and the people on the street or in this area or the people that e-mail and order the cakes. It's about them. And then I think that's the that there's no magic formula to it. You just got to do your best and keep doing it. And then if you get the repeat orders then great.”