Thursday, November 06, 2003

The Cupcake Corp., a NASDAQ Listing

It's all about cupcakes right now. Cupcakes are the new candy bar, but Starbuckized. Cupcakes are the new Ben & Jerry's ice cream cone. Cupcakes are even the new wedding cakes, replacing multi-tiered creations with individual concoctions for each wedding goer. "In New York, cupcakes are not lopsided schoolbake-sale affairs. They are art, they are fashion, they are a tourist attraction and they can be big business," gushes the New York Times.

These supersized, candy-laden, intensely flavored indulgences sell for $2.95 and up. They are purchased mainly by adults in the largest cities who, some theorize, don't realize how easy they are to make. One bakery, The Magnolia in New York City, sells 3,000 per day, and brings in about $40,000 per week from sales of these creations. At the busiest times of a weekday, a line of customers can snake out the door and up the street.

New cupcakes, as I call them, fall into two categories: retro "back to basics" and nouveau cuisine. The "back to basics" cupcake is essentially an extravagant version of mom's homebaked variety, but the yellow cake is more intensely buttery, the chocolate is richer, and the frosting is piled higher and deeper. It is mom's cupcakes on steriods. Nouveau cuisine cupcakes follow the culinary path trod by Ben & Jerry's and TGIFriday's drinks menu...Cuban mojito cupcakes with rum flavoring and lime, Callebaut chocolate ganache cupcakes filled with bits of Godiva chocolate or fine peppermint chips. One baker says she keeps a customer suggestion box that quickly fills with cupcake concept proposals.

New cupcakes are also blank canvases for elaborate decorations, such as sculpted butter cream flowers and any holiday theme. (One baker topped cupcakes with tiny Israeli flags for Jewish High Holy Days.) As every midwestern homekeeper can tell you, fancy cake decorating is nothing new. The Wilton Corp. has taught every conceivable cake decorating scheme for the last 40+ years with its esteemed Wilton Method of Cake Decorating Course. The generation now inhabiting our large cities and haunting its bakeries, though, apparently have never heard of the Wilton family. Uniquely and fashionably decorated cupcakes command premium prices. They are status symbols, albeit temporary, and are often ordered to match one's outfit.

You may laugh at me when I say that cupcakes could soon spawn the hottest new stock on NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange. But remember....that's exactly how Krispy Kreme started. In 2002, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts rang up worldwide sales of $779 million and are expected to surpass $1 billion in 2003.

Cupcake futures, anyone?

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