Home makeover shows did it for interior design and cookery programmes are doing it for food - highlighting the importance of presentation.

According to TNS, the traditional cake coverings sector is in freefall, with a decline of 11% last year, and standard icing, marzipan and cooking chocolate have seen price deflation, which has pulled value down.

Manufacturers, however, are keen to point out that there is a whole new generation of budding culinary Picassos out there and point to glimmers of hope in some of the more contemporary segments.

Decorating is often seen as the most enjoyable part of baking. "The fact that baking is a creative process and the results are never quite the same twice over is one of the things that some consumers like about it," says Daphne Hill, marketing manager for McDougalls brand-owner RHM Culinary Brands.

Richard Ilsley, managing director of Hero UK, which owns the Supercook brand, leader in the decorations sector agrees. "Well-presented food can really boost the sense of anticipation. Despite significant barriers, such as time and mess, there is still an evident desire in people to bake and to decorate; it appeals to their creative side."

The urge to create is more commonly tapped into with activity kits targeted at children. Fiddes Payne, for example, has added decorations featuring Disney's Princess and Winnie the Pooh licences to its range, including edible 3-D centrepieces. And manufacturers are also taking a closer look at adults' creativity.

Supercook's new Select brand of upmarket ingredients includes chocolate vermicelli for adorning sophisticated desserts, and Ilsley points out that the brand's collection of sculpting tools, which are aimed primarily at carving pumpkins for Hallowe'en, can also be used to create watermelon decorations for a summer buffet.

He says consumers of all ages still want to bake and decorate but many lack confidence in their own skills.

The company also produces ready-made cakes and licensed decorations to make life easier for time-stretched parents taxed by the challenge of showing off their culinary skills in the ever-competitive world of children's birthday cakes.

"Young parents don't have the skills to make or the time or the money and they're nervous," says Ilsley. "But they are ready to decorate. The activity is relaxing and you can customise."

He also points out that the decorations segment can be a boon to retailers: "It's an impulsive purchase and it's not price-sensitive; the better it's merchandised, the better it sells." n