This is Part 6 from 125 Building Blocks for Your Bakery Business
Developing product line/s is an ongoing process. In the bakery business, chefs are constantly modifying and improving their selection of product offerings based on seasonality, cost of ingredients, and popularity. A good product line is fluid. It follows trends, moves in the direction of what sells, and shies away from the direction of what flops. A bad product line is static and fails to take into account what customers want.
In the bakery industry, typically there are three different product lines that chefs work with: year-round products, seasonal products, and specialty products.
How to Develop Year-Round Products
A year-round product line includes your bestsellers and more basic flavors that are popular all the time, like vanilla and chocolate. A bakery menu should include options for every type of basic taste preference while taking polarizing flavors into account.
Popular Flavor Profiles
- One plain vanilla option
- One basic chocolate option
- One berry option (most popular: strawberry)
- One nut option, like almond or hazelnut
Avoid mixing too many polarizing flavors into your standard popular flavors. Polarizing flavors involve an ingredient that some people love and some people hate.
Polarizing Flavor Profile Examples
- Maple bacon (some people prefer not to eat meat with their dessert. Additionally, some people don’t eat pork)
- Coconut (some people don’t like the texture)
- Mint (it reminds some people of toothpaste or going to the dentist)
- Peanut butter (because of the peanut allergy, this flavor is taboo in some circles such as schools)
It’s okay to have polarizing flavors on your dessert menu. Just keep in mind that polarizing flavors will narrow down your audience. Avoid adding polarizing flavors to your most basic menu options. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a fancy or outlandish cake menu in order to be a successful bakery.
How to Develop Seasonal/Holiday Products
Seasonal product lines come around once a year, taking advantage of abundant, fresh produce and holiday themes. Beginning in the fall, we see more pumpkin, apple, and cranberry flavors as those items reach their harvest. Since they store especially well, pumpkin and cranberry items endure through the winter months as well.
In addition to flavors, dessert designs also revolve around visual themes associated with holidays or seasons like Spring, Easter, Passover, Summer, Fall, Thanksgiving, Hanukah, and Christmas.
Experienced chefs get busy developing the next seasonal product line while the current one is still in production. That way, the menu items are photographed, the marketing materials are printed, samples are on hand, and stock is ready when the season arrives. Don’t wait for the holiday season to start before designing your seasonal menus.
Seasonal products tend to sell wildly leading up to each holiday period. Then, the demand for them comes to a screeching halt. Depending on how holiday-specific your designs are, these types of products may be extremely hard to sell after the holiday period is over. For this reason, be careful not to over-produce holiday goods. It’s better to run out just before the holiday arrives than to get stuck with leftover product you can’t sell.
How to Develop Specialty Products
In addition to year-round and seasonal products, many bakeries offer custom options like birthday and wedding cakes. Although this may be the most fun aspect of baking, this type of product line should be a last priority. Specialty cakes are more time consuming and tricky to cost. It’s harder to be sure you are turning a profit on this type of item.
It’s better to grow the popularity of your year-round and seasonal menu items before developing an extensive specialty product line. The easier and simpler your baseline menu is, the easier it will be to train staff and produce consistent products at a profitable rate.
Keep in mind that when it comes to fielding custom orders, the amount of customer service time increases immensely. As a salesperson, you will have to negotiate, explain, generate quotes, make sketches, and draw up a cake contract, all without any guarantee of a sale. For custom cake bakeries, a considerable amount of effort is spent in this way. Do make sure you are figuring this time spent into your profit margin.
Determine Storage Requirements
The best kind of bakery products can be stored at ambient (room) temperature. Cookies are an example of an ambient product. The reason why ambient products are ideal is because they don’t require refrigeration or freezing, both of which are costly in terms of space and electricity. When it comes to refrigerator and freezer items, you need chilled display cases.
Keep this in mind as you develop your product line, especially if you plan on going into wholesale distribution. Freezer and refrigerator items are much more expensive to warehouse and ship. Freezer and refrigerator items might also require special packaging and labeling that doesn’t get damaged with exposure to humidity and condensation.
Calculate Shelf Life
Shelf life is the amount of time a product lasts before it expires. Ambient shelf life refers to the amount of time a product lasts at room temperature. Refrigerator and freezer shelf life refer to the amount of time products last in those chilled states. As you design your bakery menu, test how long your products will last under those conditions before going stale or developing mold.
When baking to fill a retail display case, products must be made in advance and hopefully sold before they expire. Depending on the amount of traffic or flow of orders that your bakery operation gets, you will need to plan accordingly.
When it comes to wholesale baking, shelf life is equally important. Oftentimes, it will make or break your ability to secure a spot on a retailer’s shelves.
Some companies, such as Walmart, require third-party lab testing for shelf life before they will accept a food product into their stores. This is a necessary expense that your bakery business will be expected to absorb. Over a matter of weeks, the lab will test daily (or as instructed) for the levels of harmful bacteria within your products. Lab technicians are schooled in how to run these tests without compromising the samples.
Ideally you want to supply the lab with at least three duplicate versions of each item so that they are not basing all their results off a single example. Ideally, the samples should be made in the same environment in which they will eventually be manufactured so that they are the closest possible representation of what you plan to sell.
When the testing is over, you will have conclusive data signed by a certified laboratory determining the maximum possible shelf life of your product. Once you have your numbers, the safe bet is to be conservative with your own expiration date. So if the lab determines there is a 15-day shelf life on your products, you might want to label your products to expire on day 13. Some cakes spoil faster than others based on the cleanliness of equipment or hands. Those are the kinds of variables you cannot always control. However you can mitigate risk by being conservative.
If you run a custom cake bakery, then you will have to negotiate safe transportation for every product that goes out your door, either by delivering it yourself, hiring a driver to deliver it, or educating the customer on how to prepare their car. If you are a retail bakery operation, then your products should be boxed or bagged so that it’s easy for the customer to take them home without resulting in any damage.
Likewise, if you are a wholesale bakery, your products should be easy to stack and transport. Since they may first ship to a distribution warehouse, where they will be held and then shipped once more before they reach the end consumer, they had better be especially durable.
No matter what type of business you are in, all your products should be able to withstand transport to their destination without melting, crumbling apart, or getting damaged within the packaging. Otherwise, they are not good concepts. If the customer requires special instructions in order to guarantee a favorable outcome, then it is your responsibility to educate them.
Self Life Exercise
- Run a shelf-life test on your product by making many sample versions of it.
- How long does it last at room temperature before it goes bad?
- How long does it last at refrigerator temperature before it goes bad?
- How long does it last at freezer temperature before it goes bad?
- What happens if you drive the product around for a day or two?
- What happens if you shake it in its packaging?
- What happens if you turn it upside down?
- What happens if it’s stacked within its packaging?
- What happens if it’s exposed to heat?
- What happens to the packaging/labeling when it’s refrigerated or frozen?
Always make sure that your product line/s makes the best use of all ingredients and equipment. That means re-purposing and re-inventing your recipe elements as many times as possible without too much redundancy. It’s best if every pan, every ingredient and every recipe element that you use serves more than one purpose. That way, you are maximizing its usefulness. Visit the article below to see an example of a streamlined menu.
Examine Waste Potential
Waste is what happens when a product or recipe element doesn’t sell before it reaches the end of its shelf life. Waste is also what happens when every ingredient that enters a bakery doesn’t get used. Elements such as cake scraps and cake tops (i.e. the dome or bulge that typically gets sliced off the top of a cake when leveling it) have waste potential. It’s wise to develop strategies for utilizing these kinds of elements. For example, cake tops can be toasted, ground, and made into cheesecake crust.
Your menu should be waste-friendly. If you don’t have a way to use leftover product, invent one. No food should ever go into the trash except food that has been contaminated or somehow compromised. Everything from broken cookies to cracked pie shells to a small scoop of leftover filling can be re-processed and used to make petit fours or free samples for customers or employee snacks. Visit the article below to read more on this topic.
The best way to capture high quality photos of your work is to install a dedicated photo station in or near your kitchen. Don’t take photos with the sink, a washing machine, or kitchen counter complete with balled up dirty paper towels in the background.
Whenever you develop a new menu item, photograph the product with good lighting and a clean backdrop. Natural sunlight works well, as does a light box. These are the two most affordable options. Photograph the product from several different angles including (when applicable) in its packaging. Ideally, you want to get a cross-section photo of it as well, so buyers can see what’s on the inside.
To capture a cross-section photo of a cake, first frost it and then freeze it. Dip a flat-blade knife into hot water then dry it off. Slice the frozen cake. The dry heat should yield a clean cut. Turn the slice on its side atop a white platter and allow it to defrost before snapping your photo.
Crop unnecessary blank space out of all cake photos. These small steps go a long way in terms of presentation.
Conceive Titles & Descriptions
When it comes to product titles, you can get as creative as you want. The more playful, the better. Your product description, on the other hand, should be straightforward and literal, including as much information as possible about the ingredients and decorations.
You can make a menu look original by playing with the cake names. Some of my old cake names include Lemon Pucker and Cherry Bomb.
When it comes to product descriptions, there is an art to combining the right words in the right order. Here is a descriptive word builder to help you put together yummy sounding phrases:
Example of description: Cookies & Cream Cake: naughty devil’s food cake sandwiching layers of fluffy whipped cream swirled with Oreo cookie chunks.
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