The gourmet cupcake trend is dying. What will replace it?


Cupcake mania first gripped the United States of America sometime in the early-to-mid 00’s, catapulted to prominence by the curly-haired likes of Carrie Bradshaw and Andy Samberg. Both of them extolled the virtues of Magnolia cupcakes, just the first of a soon-gleaming infrastructure of cupcakeries: Crumbs, Sprinkles, and so many more, each with a name somehow more precious than the last. Whatever gourmet snack trend had dominated the culture before (Ben & Jerry’s?) was crushed under the heel of Big Cupcake.

A decade later, the whole sugary firmament may be collapsing. Earlier this spring, New York-based cupcake chain Crumbs reported a major drop in share price — from a 2011 high of $13/share down to just $1.70. Magnolia now earns less than half of its profits from cupcakes. And I don’t know if you’ve been in an elementary school classroom lately, but birthdays aren’t exactly being celebrated the way they used to be. It’s all quinoa, and veggie loafs. Birthdays are terrible now!

Why this sea-change in our snacking habits? Maybe it’s the emergence of gluten as our greatest-ever nutritional enemy. Or it could just be the thing none of us want to admit: that we are just BURNT OUT on cupcakes, and ready for a new snack craze to glom onto. Not just anything will do. The cupcake resonated for meeting some very specific metrics: portability, eating efficiency, potential for quirky store name, to list a few. With that in mind, we had some ideas as to what could rise from the cupcake ashes…

Gourmet donut holes
Before the cupcake became the Cupcake, it was just a dumpy, cheap alternative to purchasing an actual cake. While donut holes don’t share quite the same relationship to donuts, there’s no denying they’re due for a similar upgrade. Think of the markup, bakers!

  • 2012: 50 donut holes for $7.99
  • 2013: 20 dönut spheres for $20, CASH ONLY.

Guys, you are just FRYING MONEY. And, like cupcakes, donut holes gain most of their selling power from the fact that you remember them from your childhood, specifically birthday parties celebrated in school between September and June (sorry forever, July babies!). Nostalgia alone would see the dönut sphere craze through at least two years of brisk party business.

Gum stores
We take gum for granted. Always have. Right now it’s an afterthought at Target, something you grab on your way out because “sure, why not?” But what if we offered gum the same respect and real estate we give fro yo, and dog treats? No, The Gum Store (or “The Gummery,” “The Gum Drop,” “Gum On In,” etc.) wouldn’t take off at first. What, I’m gonna go out of my way for gum? But then the curious customers would swing by, brought in by a playful Thrillist or Serious Eats write-up. Friends would tell friends. Novelty browsing would eventually give way to regular shopping and then repeat business and then don’t you wish you’d been one of the first to dive in? It’s baffling that we went this long without a gum store and now it’s here forever.

Pizza bowls
Right now pizza comes in pies and slices, which aren’t super-convenient to eat in your car or waiting for a doctor appointment. So why not make The World’s Favorite Food portable, and shove all those pizza elements in a goddamn bowl? I’m no food scientist, so I couldn’t tell you whether the play is baking directly in the bowl or tossing everything in after the fact. But whether this looks like a dream or Dominos throw-up is sort of beside the point, because we all know it’s gonna taste great. Also worth noting is the pizza bowl’s “I’m so baaaaad!” factor, a key component of any gourmet snack’s appeal and staying power. Nothing says diet-dodger like a lunchtime pizza bowl!

Oatmeal smoothies with boba straws
The last 20 years (or however many, I don’t know) have seen the rise of breakfast as a meal of efficiency: no less important than it’s ever been, but something to GET THROUGH. We don’t eat breakfast platters anymore, we eat breakfast sandwiches. Fruit is shoved in cereal bars. Balanced breakfast? Put it in a smoothie, we’ve got shit to do. Hence the steel-cut oatmeal smoothie, slurped straight out of a thick straw usually reserved for Japanese milkshakes. Who’s gonna eat oatmeal out of a bowl, to say nothing of the fives of minutes of work that go into its preparation? Plus with the boba straw, you can throw in an endless array of toppings — strawberries, nuts, fun size Reese’s — that not only make oatmeal more fun, but neutralize its nutritional value entirely.

Human dog biscuits
DJ Steve wrote way back when about the explosion of pet bakeries, which take the exacting, precious standards of human bakeries and apply them to our four-legged friends. But like a movie that’s turned into a musical and then back to a movie…why can’t we give those treats back to humans? Now, before you freak — the “human dog biscuit” is not an actual dog biscuit, just a human biscuit in the shape of a dog biscuit, i.e. a bone. You’re eating human food. But the people around you, watching you dig into a bag of bone-shaped snacks…they won’t know the difference. You’ll be the quirkiest one at work! Isn’t that what this is all about?!?

Breakfast beers
“It’s 7am Somewhere!” will be the name of the first recognized breakfast beer bar, opened caddy-corner to the NYSE. The trend won’t last long, but it will be well-remembered by NY Post and Gawker. The good news, for anyone late to this brief-but-shining party — you can make your own at home. Just crack open a beer before work!

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15 Responses to “The gourmet cupcake trend is dying. What will replace it?”

  1. Gunnar Says:

    I like the gourmet donut holes idea, but you completely missed the cronut craze ( taking over NYC. It’s only a matter of time till cronut places begin popping up in LA!

    • Henning Says:

      Gunnar, your cronuts note is on point. I take it you’ve had one? What’s the verdict? LA’s only seem a few stores start selling them…

      With this post, I just wanted to highlight some of the less heralded/most unrealistic snacking possibilities. Though the minute someone makes the first oatmeal smoothie I expect a sizable cut.

  2. Amacker Says:

    Fascinating stuff. I used to play a lot more golf than I do recently. Wish I had as much spare time as I did when I was young. – John

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