Looking for the Next Trendy Treat as Cupcakes Go Stale

A couple of years ago, it seemed cupcake stores were cropping up all over Texas. As the craze winds down, entrepreneurs hedge their bets on the next trendy treat.

By Brenda SalinasFebruary 11, 2015 9:00 am

When Carrie and Miranda visited Magnolia Bakery on “Sex and the City” in 2004, they put gourmet cupcakes on the map.

It wasn’t long before cupcakes started taking over other TV channels, on shows like “DC Cupcakes” and “Cupcake Wars.”

But 10 years later, after countless TV bake-offs, and cupcake store openings on seemingly every street corner, the treats aren’t quite as sweet.

Cupcake giant Crumbs bakery declared bankruptcy.

In 2004, there were nearly 3,000 articles on cupcakes. Last year? 998. And most of them weren’t even about cupcakes. They wanted to know one thing: what’s the next cupcake?

Sweet Wannabees

There’ve been plenty of pretenders. Macaroons in 2011, the cronut in 2013, and last year, the cake pop. All of them began gourmet and became as common as a drive-thru.

And now? Ryan Palmer thinks he’s onto something. He owns Gourdough’s in Austin.

“Basically we found out that we could do anything we want to do with a donut,” Palmer says.

The $6 donuts can be sweet or savory – everything from chicken fried steak to peanut butter and jelly. Palmer says business is just fine.

“Everybody likes fried food,” he says. “Donut’s fried, cupcakes aren’t, makes them extra better.”

But fads can fry out so fast. For every singe success story, there’s been two satisfries. Right?

All About Branding

Brian Herbstreit says the right branding keeps a pastry fresher longer. That’s why he bought into a franchise instead of starting from scratch. “Nothing Bundt Cakes” spent a lot of time up front finding out what customers want.

“Bundtinis are the smallest size, we sell those by the dozen. We have bundlets – bundtlets are about the size of your fist, that’s our version of a cupcake,” Herbstreit says.

Herbstreit thinks the small size, coupled with the combination of nostalgia and trendiness, is an irresistible draw for old and young alike. So where can you catch some of that lightning in a bottle? University of Houston marketing professor Betsy Gelb says the secret to baked success is social – as in Pinterest, Twitter and Tumblr.

“It’s a conversation piece; now you have something to maybe talk about on social media,” Gelb says. “All of that tremendously helps what I call the upstart baker.”

So whatever you buy for your sweetie this Valentine’s Day – make sure to take lots of pictures.