In case you’ve been stuck on a deserted island (or better yet, a dessert island) for the past few years, you already know that single-serve desserts are sweeping the country. Most of all, this trend is driven by the fact that Americans crave indulgence, only in smaller bites.

Single serve can mean cupcakes, cake balls, mini cakes, mini cheesecakes, cake kabobs, or any other creative idea bakers can dream up. And if you are not a member of this singles’ club, you might want to apply yourself to this trend pretty soon.

Also, a word of advice from the experts: Don’t forget to offer combo packs, or buy-three, get-one-free specials, so that customers can see the value in buying more than just one. You don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to maximize your value position with customers by showing them special treatment when they buy more. Further, combo packs encourage customers to buy lots of different varieties of cupcakes or other single-serve desserts for themselves and for others.

At Judi’s Bakery Café in Kansas City, MO, they have a new marketing slogan that perfectly sums up this strategic message: “Treat Yourself, Treat Others.”

For bakery owners like John Mannino at Mannino’s Bakery in Sterling Heights, MI, a Detroit suburb, the single-serve dessert trend is getting stronger every year. His bakery – voted the city’s top bakery in 2008 by one online survey – serves buttercream icing cupcakes decorated in various shapes, ranging from green frogs to orange flowers.

“Our flower cupcakes are very popular. Customers like to mix them up for families, so each person can get their favorite,” Mannino says. “People are getting away from bigger tortes, and they are buying a lot of single cupcakes and cheesecake slices. All kinds of single-serve desserts are very popular right now.”

New York City’s Magnolia Bakery has branched out beyond its famous cupcakes into a wide assortment of single-serve desserts: Cherries Jamboree slices (shortbread crust with pecans, cream cheese and cherry pie filling, sold only by the slice), mini cheesecakes (with chocolate swirl and red velvet ranking among their customers’ favorites), mini chocolate pudding pies, and the Whoopi cookie (featuring two brown sugar cookies with a dollop of maple cream cheese icing in between).

Magnolia Bakery sells its chocolate buttermilk cupcakes or vanilla cupcakes for $2.50 apiece, while special cupcake flavors like coconut or hummingbird (cream cheese icing and topped with toasted pecans) go for $3 apiece. The bakery’s mini cheesecakes sell for $4.50 apiece, and the mini chocolate pudding pies go for $2.50 each.

In San Francisco, Tartine Bakery & Café offers a choice of 4-inch and 9-inch pastries in the following products: banana cream tart, coconut cream tart, lemon cream tart, and frangipane tart. This acclaimed bakery also produces an option of 6-inch or 10-inch cakes in the following flavors: lemon meringue, passion fruit lime Bavarian, devil’s food, and chocolate soufflé. Four-inch tarts sell for about $4 apiece, while 6-inch cakes can be priced up to $34 each.

Offering customers a choice of small and medium sizes is an effective strategy. Cupcake Station in Detroit sells decadent cupcakes in two sizes (small and medium) in flavors such as strawberries & cream (filled with vanilla cream, frosted with strawberry buttercream and topped with a single slice of fresh strawberry). Cupcake Station advertises “Wild Wednesdays,” when you can pick up two cupcakes and get one free all day long, or “Frosting Fridays,” when you can order a shot of frosting for a quarter. Talk about your sweet pick me up.

Studies show that single-serve desserts continue to gain popularity with customers in bakeries, including supermarkets, across the country, peaking at various times of the year. In 2008, according to research from the Perishables Group, cupcakes more than doubled their dollar share of the instore bakery cake category during the Halloween week. So don’t forget to capitalize on those holiday opportunities.

In other trends, the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s “Show and Sell Center” featured creative merchandising and innovative product ideas that included cake kabobs (different flavors of cake balls on a skewer), cupcake mugs (cupcakes placed in cool coffee cups with a ribbon around the plastic wrapping) and a wedding cake table display with cupcake and cake ball party favors.

Cheesecake Slices
In celebration of National Cheesecake Day, The Cheesecake Factory invited guests who dined at any of its 146 restaurants on July 30 to enjoy any slice of cheesecake for half price. The restaurant chain used the event to introduce its new Stefanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake, which supports Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity.

Guests on July 30 were the first to experience Stefanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake, featuring moist layers of Red Velvet Cake and Original cheesecake covered with special Cheesecake Factory cream cheese frosting. The idea for this new cheesecake originated with Redondo Beach, CA, resident Stefanie Gaxiola, whose flavor suggestion was chosen from nearly 10,000 submissions in The Cheesecake Factory’s “What’s Your Flavor?” cheesecake contest earlier this year. The winner of the contest was given the opportunity to have their cheesecake creation named after them and included on the menu for one year. This represents the first time The Cheesecake Factory has named a menu item after one of its guests.

“Our famous cheesecake made with my Mother’s recipe was the secret that inspired our restaurant more than 30 years ago and we’re delighted that it has become America’s favorite today,” says David Overton, Founder of The Cheesecake Factory.

With the introduction of Stefanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake, The Cheesecake Factory is strengthening its partnership with Feeding America by donating 25 cents for each slice sold over the next year. Feeding America is the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization that helps to feed more than 25 million hungry Americans each year. During the past year, The Cheesecake Factory has donated more than $400,000 to Feeding America and hopes to surpass that donation in the coming year.