The party has gone a bit flat in the celebration cakes market in the past year with the market down by slightly more than 2% to £85m [Nielsen].

Part of the reason for the decline is that licences for some of the summer movie blockbusters have failed to perform. At Greencore, MD of cakes and desserts Paul Rhodes says sales of Shrek the Third celebration cakes were "disappointing".

"Generally film licences haven't performed and retailers are taking them off the shelves after 10-12 weeks. Shrek 2 products were on shelf for double that time," he says. "We cannot afford to pay huge amounts for film licences that are not going to deliver, so we are looking at opportunities in lifestyle products. From next February we will be launching products with characters licensed from Nintendo."

When it comes to TV licences, however, the so-called evergreen licences such as The Simpsons and Thomas the Tank Engine remain the key performers for Greencore, as do greeting card licences such as Me to You. The company has also recently acquired the rights to the Purple Ronnie greeting card brand.

Stalwarts such as Disney and Barbie have also been the best performers for Finsbury Food Group, which took over celebration cake company Lightbody earlier this year. Head of consumer marketing Martin Wiltshire says the Pirates of the Caribbean 3 licence, however, was "not terribly successful", while the popularity of Doctor Who has also been tricky to convert into cake sales.

Part of the problem, he says, is that these licences feature dark colours, which do not translate into bright and uplifting cakes. "They are also quite male and we find boys tend to drop out of celebration cakes earlier than girls," says Wiltshire.

Wiltshire identifies 15 to 16-year-old girls as the core market for celebration cakes and because of demographics their numbers are in decline. "The challenge we face is attracting adults and growing penetration. We're looking at other occasions beyond birthdays and making smaller cakes that appeal more to adults."

In the short term, Wiltshire has high hopes of the new Disney Pixar movie licence Ratatouille, as well as High School Musical.

Meanwhile, Greencore is investigating ways of making photo cakes easier for customers to buy. Most of the bigger retail stores already offer a photo cake service, which allows customers to bring in a photo to be scanned and printed on a sugar plaque that is then added to a cake.

But Rhodes says the service is often restricted by a lack of space, problems with the printers and the time it takes. "We are looking at how we can do things better and have plans to develop photo cakes next year," he says. n