They're moist, they're easy to make from a mix or to thaw and sell, they're stackable and they produce a healthy ring.
That's what's contributing to the popularity of pudding cakes, also known as cream cakes, in supermarket bakeries across the country. In some markets, they're already all the rage. In others, they're just beginning to gather steam, according to retailers interviewed by SN.
Most of the 10 retailers polled by SN said they've recently begun carrying the cakes or have begun to promote them more aggressively. Some have added varieties to
their mix and intend to increase the number of times they feature the uniced cakes in their ads.
For those with established programs, they've spent the last year experimenting with offering new shapes and sizes, such as a square rather than the traditional ring shape.
Pudding cakes win praise from retailers because consistency is easy to maintain and they have a relatively long shelf life compared with other cakes.
"They're almost foolproof. If you read the mix instructions, you're going to turn out a good cake," said one Midwest retailer.
"And there's so much you can do with them. They never get boring," said Dan Kallesen, bakery director at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark. That 23-unit chain ran a "pudding cake madness" promotion this spring and nearly doubled sales projections, Kallesen said.
"We had one of our smaller stores triple projections by selling 700," he added.
On a recent visit to San Antonio-based H-E-B Grocery Co.'s Marketplace store there, SN noted that 12 feet of a four-tier display space was devoted to cream cakes. At least six varieties of the 19.25-ounce ring cakes were offered. Included were apple cinnamon, lemon crunch, almond poppy, chocolate chip, pina colada and blueberry. A source said the $2.99 cakes are made by H-E-B at a central facility. Another H-E-B source said no-fat blueberry is a surprisingly good seller.
Even those retailers who said their pudding cake sales were only fair said they sell them to keep in step with their competitors.
"We're not putting a lot of emphasis on the category, but it is a line we need to have. There's a demand for it," said Bernard Rogan, corporate public relations director for Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., adding that Shaw's began to carry the cakes recently.
Consumers like the cakes because of their long shelf life, retailers said. "They can keep them in the refrigerator and they stay moist. And they freeze well, too. It's a good item to have on hand. It's also something that both kids and adults like," said one bakery executive.
But sales success stories are mixed. Some retailers said a lack of growth in the category is related to geography. An Indiana retailer said, "They're just not that big an item in this area. But in the South, you can sell a lot of them."
Jeff Ruple, bakery director at Harvest Food Stores, Little Rock, Ark., said, "It depends on how much and how well you promote them. We're doing very well with a buy-one-get-one-free offer. It's better than reducing the price because you've still got the big ring, and the consumer perceives it as a better value."
The 54-unit chain retails a large pudding cake for $3.99, and a smaller one for $1.99.
"Pudding cakes have been super performers for us when we feature them," said a source at a Rini-Rego Market operated by Riser Foods, Bedford Heights, Ohio.
But another Ohio retailer, Seaway Food Town, based in Maumee, isn't carrying pudding cakes at all, a source there said.
Another Midwest bakery executive pointed out that he carries pudding cakes, but hasn't given them much attention until now.
"Everybody has a pudding cake, but there are other products that are easy to turn into signature items. For example, I'm concentrating on muffins. We have a large muffin that's on its way to becoming our signature item, but later we'll start promoting pudding cakes because people do like them."
SN polled bakery executives in different markets. Here's more of what they had to say:
Bernard Rogan corporate public relations director Shaw's Supermarkets East Bridgewater, Mass.
Sales of pudding cakes have been slow, but possibly because it's not a clearly defined category. This is a strong market for baked goods. We carry three varieties -- fudge marble, banana nut and pecan. They're a frozen product. Although we haven't put emphasis on the line, it's one we need to have.
Roy L. Foster owner Foster Foods Bryant, Ark.
We've recently added extra tables to display cream cakes and they're doing well. We have just three basic flavors: chocolate, lemon and apricot, and we'll stick with those. But once in a while we feature a special flavor like our "sock it to me" variety, which has nuts and cinnamon and fruit in it. People love it.
William Vitulli VP, community, government relations A&P Montvale, N.J.
Pudding cakes are selling quite well for us. They've turned out to be a very popular item, which is something you can't say about everything you take on. People like them.
We bring them in already made and we offer five varieties, but lemon and maple nut and walnut seem to do the best.
John DiGeronimo bakery director Victory Supermarkets Leominster, Mass.
They sell OK for us. They're fairly new for us. We took them on about a year ago. We carry three varieties -- chocolate, lemon-poppyseed and raspberry -- and promote them quarterly. The regular price is $3.99, and we bring that down to $2.99 on special. It's a 16-ounce cake.
We buy them already made from our supplier in order to keep labor costs down. About six months ago, we changed from a loaf to a ring. We sold the 10-ounce loaves for $1.99. This way we get a bigger ring and I think the cakes look better. Sales are up moderately, about 3%.
They're a good product because they stay moist and retain their flavor. I would like to see a supplier come out with nice tasting, fat-free variety. I do think there's growth potential in the category.
We don't intend to add varieties. Three is the optimum. More and you increase your shrink, but the three we offer give a broad enough choice I think.
Bakery executive upscale independent in the Midwest
There's been no growth in this category. We recently went down to a smaller size, from 9 inches to 6 inches, and it has affected our sales negatively.
But we've begun to promote them in our ads just now and I think that will get sales up. And now we're also having demos on weekends at the front of the store. We're using our plain (cream cheese) variety with strawberries.
A couple of years ago, we were selling the bigger cakes for $3.19 and now we sell the smaller ones for $2.59. We went down to this size in order to make more money on them. The gross is 60% to 65% on the small one, compared to 49% or 50% on the larger one.
We changed from a dome container for the large one to a hinged one for these smaller cakes. There's a savings right there.
We're not bringing the price down for the promotion. We're just calling attention to it.
I think two is the optimal number of varieties to offer 365 days a year, but you can feature a different flavor once in a while. For example, a cranberry-orange during the holidays. Anytime you take a category and keep adding varieties, you're going to increase shrink, but you can use different drizzles. We have a blueberry, a cream cheese, almond poppyseed and chocolate, but we'll probably phase out chocolate.
We intend to build sales because this is a pretty easy product for us to make and it's durable. It's pretty insensitive to mixing. There's a lot of tolerance there.
Michael Knisley bakery-deli director Consumers Markets Springfield, Mo.
We use a mix. They're real easy to do. Sales (of pudding cakes) had been flat, but they picked up again last fall. Probably because we made a cranberry variety for Christmas.
They're 1-pound loaves, in an aluminum loaf pan with overwrap. They look homemade.
We have 20 to 25 varieties we could make, but we don't offer too many varieties at a time. The regular price is $3.29, but we promoted them at $2.69 during the holidays and we'll promote them now every other month.
The gross margin's about 45%, about the same as on our other cakes. Pudding cakes are generally getting more popular. Maybe customers think of them as healthier because there's no icing. Ours are plain on top, no drizzle of icing.
Dan Kallesen bakery director Harp's Food Stores Springdale, Ark.
We just had a very successful pudding cake promotion, "Pudding Cake Madness." We put 36-ounce cakes in our ad at a hot price, $1.99. Their regular price is $4.99. People went crazy. We were shipping cake mix all over, from store to store. In that one week we sold 7,000 cakes from 10 stores. One of our smaller stores tripled its projections with 700 cakes sold.
We use a cream cake base and we run every cake through the glazer. It seals the moisture in.
We had four technicians from our supplier helping us to make production on such a large scale efficient so labor wouldn't bring the profit down, and we actually reduced labor costs 5%. And sales went up in double-digit percentages, but we've been building sales in this category for a year.
We displayed them on tables stacked four and five high. We kept them in the bakery itself in order to capitalize on other bakery items we offer. We put them in hinged, see-through, deep-pie containers. And we limited the varieties to three: cinnamon swirl, strawberry cheese and banana nut. That helped make production on such a large scale easier. Normally we have four or five flavors out.
For the "madness" promotion, we were betting on banana nut, but strawberry cheese outsold them all. We projected selling 4,200 cakes, but we did much better than that. Some stores doubled their projections. The first night we had to call the supplier for more product.
The promotion, because it was so successful, was a good morale builder, too, among the bakery managers and staff.
Bakery executive Midwest independent
Pudding cakes haven't been a good item for us, but they're picking up steam now. I think it's been slow maybe because our direction hasn't been on that particular item.
I've been concentrating on bagels, muffins and pies. Everybody can have a pudding cake, but I'm concentrating on items that we can make better than anybody else's.
I don't see any huge growth for the category. It has a niche like coffee cake. It's a good product because it's easy and it's a high-ticket item.
Jeff Ruple bakery director Harvest Foods Little Rock, Ark.
Pudding cakes have been great for us. A year ago they made up 8% of our bakery sales, and by now, I'd bet it's at least 12%.
Their regular price is $3.99, and then recently we added a smaller, square one for $1.99, which is doing very well. It appeals, I think, to people who don't want to buy a whole large cake. It's better than offering them half a cake.
We have five varieties out. We believe in concentrating on variety.
We use a mix. It's versatile and it's less expensive for us (than a premade cake). The gross margin on the large cakes at $3.99 is 68%.