Cupcake Nation

The popular treat is spawning TV shows, books, retail chains—and the cake pop

The U.S. boasts more than 400 cupcake outlets, according to Cupcakes Take The Cake, a blog with nearly 28,000 Twitter followers and 400,000 monthly pageviews. Crumbs Bake Shop, founded in 2003 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side by the husband-and-wife team of Jason and Mia Bauer, now has 51 stores in markets including New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. Plans call for 200 stores over the next two years. The chain, which went public last year, posted $11.3 million in sales in the first quarter of this year.

On the West Coast, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Sprinkles Cupcakes, founded by Candace Nelson in 2005 and inspired by her great-grandmother’s recipes, now has 10 U.S. locations, with plans to open 15 more in markets including Tokyo and London.  

“Really, the appeal of cupcakes is that they can be humbly versatile, they can be upscale or mainstream, fancy cakes or everyday cakes as well,” says Chris Brockman, senior global analyst Mintel Food & Drink. The sector stays innovative due to constant variation—from the $1 elegant mini-versions at Baked by Melissa to savory flavors on blogs and travel shows, such as Bacon and Egg cupcakes. While retail outlets peaked in 2007 and 2008 at 60 and 58 new shops respectively, new store openings were still strong by 2011 at 37. And growth is expected to continue through 2015, according to Mintel.

The little cake that could has spawned more than 500 books listed on Amazon, according Basic American Foods’ Taste the Trend. But its real success as a cultural phenomenon can be measured by reality TV. In 2010, TLC premiered its show about the entrepreneurial sisters behind Georgetown Cupcake, who doubled their output from 5,000 to 10,000 cupcakes per day. Food Network’s Cupcake Wars launched the same year, copying its own Chopped formula featuring four contestants vying in three elimination rounds for cash and the chance to dessert cater a celebrity party.

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