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Every consumer trend has a life cycle, and food trends are no exception. Many observers have recently proclaimed that cupcakes’ time is up. Is that true? And what does the answer mean for manufacturers and retailers of similar products?

A combination of influential bakeries and a high-profile cameo in 2000 on Sex and the City transformed the cupcake. From a staple of children’s birthday parties into a luxurious adult dessert, the cupcake has led the creation of national chains, independent cupcakeries, and endless Pinterest boards. At the same time, cupcakes have always had haters, and some of those are eager to proclaim the trend dead. With bakery chains closing down and desserts like the cronut grabbing more positive headlines, some think that the cupcake trend is now in bubble-burst mode.

To be sure, cupcakes aren’t as trendy as they once were, but we’re not ready to proclaim the trend dead. For one thing, John Aziz has shown that cupcake sales and search popularity have declined only slightly. Cupcakes are very much still in the marketplace, even if they have lost some of their glamour. More fundamentally, though, we side with David Sax, who literally wrote the book on food trends like the cupcake and on the life cycle of trends:

After nearly two decades as the reigning dessert trend in America, and increasingly the world, the cupcake will not go away. It will be there at birthdays, graduations and office parties. It will still elicit palpitations of excitement on sight, even from those who cursed its constant attention, because fundamentally the cupcake’s enduring strength is its very essence: a cake you can hold in your hand and eat without a fork. A cake you can eat in the car. America’s perfect cake.

The Life Cycle of Cupcakes Isn’t Through

Cupcakes may not excite trend observers and foodies as much as they used to. However like other simple pleasures, they will always be part of our consciousness. There’s always room in the grocery cart for a simple, inexpensive luxury like the cupcake. Although it’s probably wise for cupcake-focused businesses to diversify, there’s no need for serious alarm. Trendiness can make or break a business. It’s crucial to remember that all trends live and die (the life cycle of trends), and businesses go on nonetheless. Consumers buy lots of perfectly untrendy food, after all.

We’re incessant trend-watchers at MarketPlace, but we also know the value of a long-term perspective on the food industry. Are you trying to ride the wave of a current trend or make a plan so your business can run for many years to come? We would love to chat—maybe over a cupcake, a cronut, or whatever the next trendy dessert may be.

Matt Miller staff photo
Matt Miller writes, teaches, and practices biodynamic gardening near Reeds Spring, Missouri. A MarketPlace alum with a background in academic research, he’s fascinated with how culture, media, and business interact—and equally with the best methods of cultivating healthy fruit trees.