The UK food sector has previously fared better in an economic downturn than many other markets: cakes, biscuits and other confectionery are considered relatively low-cost treats, so any reductions in the market tend to be less severe than in other sectors. In addition, the food market as a whole benefits from consumers choosing to take a more indulgent approach to spending in this sector, as they cut back in other areas.
Bakers can benefit from the trend towards indulgence in the food sector by introducing a range of top-quality cakes, which not only taste fantastic but look fabulous. Well-decorated, eye-catching cakes attract customers who are prepared to spend more and you may find that your current clients will be more willing to treat themselves if you improve your offering. Look at your top-selling lines and think what you could do to make them appeal to a wider market.
Good-looking cakes should live up to expectations by tasting good too; it's worth paying more for better ingredients to encourage return visits and word-of-mouth promotion for your business. You don't have to make classic French patisserie to draw new customers in; the simplest lemon drizzle cake made with the freshest ingredients (organic if you can find them) offers the perfect indulgent treat. Place some small pieces of edible gold leaf on top and you have created a premium product, for which you can charge customers a premium price.
Take inspiration from traditional recipes: classic favourites such as Battenberg can be given a facelift simply by using new ways to flavour and decorate them to set your bakery apart from the rest. Make a lemon and orange Battenberg and cover the cake with a delicious new flavour of marzipan, such as hazelnut and orange, or make a chocolate and mint version, covered with chocolate marzipan (excellent-quality instant marzipan mixes are available to help you save time). Quick ways of decorating are important in a busy bakery, but that doesn't mean you cannot stand out from the crowd. Top-quality fondant icings, which use real fruit to give them a delicious natural taste and colour (a great selling point), are incredibly versatile and will help you to create tempting cakes and cookies quickly and easily. Ready-made chocolate roses in milk, white, dark, pink and red can be placed on a cake in a second, but add a wow factor that your customers would be happy to pay for. For the ultimate decoration and a premium sale, use crystallised real flowers, such as roses, jasmine and violets. Cupcakes are ever-popular and can be dressed up with colourful dotty or baroque cases, and you can appeal to younger generations with ready-made piped sugar animals, figures or pretty flowers.
Start with just three or four products and upgrade your ingredients and decorations. Keep a special area in your shop for more luxury and upmarket products and think about investing in a few new and unusual-shaped tins or silicone bakeware. It's worth displaying something new in your window on a regular basis, even if you just take 'special orders' for those items. A traditional English teatime display with your goods on pretty china cake stands will tempt customers in and attract an impulse buy that perhaps an ordinary doughnut will not.