Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cupcakes Going Out of the Box

As writer and researcher for a commercial real estate company, I was asked to write a press release for a new shopping center tenant, a cupcake place in Miami called Cupcakes Nouveau. This is a small business run by two women who turn out some magnificent-looking cupcakes, the kind with fondant topping sculpted into unbelievable shapes, almost too pretty to eat. 

As happens when you buy a car and then you start noticing how many people out on the street are driving your new car’s make and model, I started seeing cupcakes everywhere. In Miami,the most visible competitor of Cupcakes Nouveau is Misha’s Cupcakes, also beautiful and delicious.

Then I started seeing trays of fancy mini cupcakes in every coffee bar, and it wasn’t long until cupcakes became highlighted offerings in my neighborhood’s Starbucks. On TV, I just noticed, the Food channel premiered the “Cupcake Wars” program on June 15. Most recently, during a weekend trip to New York, I saw a cupcake truck, similar to the ice cream truck of my childhood, but dishing out cupcakes.

So what is it with cupcakes? Are they more profitable than a full-size cake? They wouldn’t be profitable if people weren’t buying then, so why are people buying them?

I think it's about fun food. Cupcakes bring fun food within easier reach. For a cake, you kind of need a special occasion. And say you’re by yourself at the bakery or coffee shop, getting a cup of coffee. You order a slice of cake, and you feel kind of incomplete, like you’re missing the party where the rest of the cake will be eaten, along with the aforementioned occasion that is lacking. Plus you tore this one lone piece from a once-beautiful whole. Really, you’re a taker, biting off pieces of the whole.

A cupcake, by contrast, has its entire decoration contained over its you-sized top. It is a whole all by itself. Self-contained yet part of a group, it stands on its own yet has peers. You may not be aware of it, but when you eat a cupcake, you celebrate yourself.

And at $2 to $3 a cupcake, you might be talking $30 for the same amount of batter that it took to make a $20 cake. But here I’m getting out of my league, as I really don’t know the economics of cupcake production.

I read somewhere that the cupcake trend is waning. Some people even want it to, like this writer for Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-mccoy/cupcake-madness_b_675933.html

But if you ask me, we can keep this one for a while and watch out for its next level.

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