It’s all about the little treats in life, especially in cakes, where individual portions and bitesize cakes dominate

Accepted wisdom has it that people want to spoil themselves with low-cost treats during the recession. However, growth in the ambient cake category has actually slowed from 3.1% last year to just 0.5% this year and volume sales are down 0.8%. 

One problem has been a lack of innovation in the category, which like so many others this year has been marked by heavy promotional activity from the brands at the expense of own-label. 

“Strong promotional programmes from brands means they have performed well this year, particularly around small cakes,” says Jennifer Salamony, senior buyer in bakery for Sainsbury’s.

Not that all the small cake brands have grown. Premier Foods makes 14 of the top cake brands including the number-one Cadbury Mini Rolls. But Viennese Whirls was among eight Mr Kipling’s lines to experience a fall in sales, of 11.7% to £13.3m. 

Although other lines, notably its Mr Kipling Angel Slices, mince pies and Bakewell slices have enjoyed growth, the brand has had to contend with an ageing consumer base, which is why Premier launched a campaign in August to win over a different crowd, repositioning Mr Kipling to attract a “lost generation” of younger consumers and launching Cadbury Mini Bakes for the on-the-go market (see box). Sales director Ian York promises more innovation to come as well as “significant investment in the consumer side”.

Salamony certainly believes we’ll see more bitesize-related NPD next year. “It has worked in targeting new and younger consumers,” she says. “There has also been a halo effect around lunchbox cakes, attracting consumers who are purchasing for their children.”

That doesn’t mean larger cakes won’t do well, however. Although 17 of this year’s top 20 are small cakes, the three whole cakes, Soreen Malt Loaf, McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake and Mr Kipling Manor House Cake, all experienced sales growth. 

“Stronger trends for nostalgia are evolving from the recession, as price-conscious consumers want trusted brands that evoke feelings reminiscent of home comforts and daily indulgences,” says Soreen marketing manager Sarah-Louise Heslop.

With all age groups catered for, now everyone can have their cake – and eat it.

Top launch: Cadbury Mini Bakes, Premier Foods
Cadbury Mini Rolls has an apparently unassailable lead in the cake market, so it made sense for Premier to replicate the format with the launch of Cadbury Mini Bakes in August.

The chocolate brownies and chocolate flapjacks play on two current trends: bite-size, which appeals to a younger market; and wrapped portions, which are ideal for including in lunchboxes. Premier plans a TV ad campaign for the products in early 2010.

Top Products Survey 2009