Food & Drink

Cupcakes still sweet for business

It’s been several years since the humble cupcake hit the gourmet food scene in a big way, but while cake pops, macaroons and doughnuts had their 15 minutes of fame, it seems as if the cupcake is a trend that’s here to stay.

The phenomenon began in the States at now infamous establishments like San Francisco’s Sprinkles and New York’s Magnolia Bakery, eventually rising north to tempt sweet-toothed Canadians. Today, a Google search will turn up more than a dozen hits for cupcake shops and home-based businesses in the Edmonton area alone.

“I don’t think they’ll ever go away,” said Amanda Van Unen, owner of Edmonton’s Bluebird Cakes. “They’re always great for parties, great for birthdays, they’re fun, they’re portable, and they’re easy.” What’s not to love?

But Van Unen also acknowledged the craze may have passed its peak. She said many businesses have started to diversify in order to keep customers interested in today’s fast-paced world, where people’s tastes and opinions change ever so quickly and businesses supported by a single product have lower profit margins.

“Even the Magnolias of the world have expanded greatly. They’ve diversified enough that it’s not going to come tumbling down,” said Van Unen. “There definitely seems to be a shift towards old, comfort food desserts. And little pies, I totally think it’s going to go that way.”

Jodi Willoughby, who co-owns Crave Cookies and Cupcakes with her sister Carolyne, firmly believes that cupcakes, if made well, will continue to sell.

She said people keep coming back to cupcakes because they’re “a sweet, simple indulgence” that takes people back to their childhood, to beater-licking afternoons spent baking with grandma.

“Anything that tastes good is not a fad,” said Willoughby, adding that eight years have passed since the first Crave outlet opened Calgary. Business has been solid and since then the brand has expanded to three more stores in Calgary and one store each in Edmonton and Saskatoon.

In the future, the Willoughby sisters plan to add squares, home-style cakes and pies to complement (rather than compete with!) the cookies and cakes on their existing product list.

“Cupcakes are always going to be on the menu, that’s what we are known for,” said Willoughby. “But we want our customers to think of using our products for many varied occasions and offering them lots of choices.”

But are Edmontonians too spoiled for choice? Can the local market support so many cupcakeries?

“There are a lot of cupcake shops in Edmonton, especially in the Whyte Avenue area, but there is room for everyone,” said Willoughby. “If you have a great product, treat your customers well, and have great staff, you will be successful.”

Other sweet treats will come and go (food trend forecasts earlier this year predicted homemade marshmallows would be the next big thing, although it’s one that’s yet to catch on in E-town), but none are likely to dethrone the cupcake.

The cupcake’s popularity may have leveled off since the initial craze of the mid 2000s, but good, quality cupcakes are enduring, nostalgic and it’s always hard to stop at just one.


 Kate Hamilton writes for the Spectator Tribune. Follow us on Twitter: @SpectatorTrib