According to market researcher Mintel, sales of small cakes have grown by 28 per cent between 2003 and 2007, to around £767 million (€973m at current exchange rates).
Sales of cakes in large, family-sized formats have remained at the same level of around £334m (€434m).
“We now spend well over twice as much on these individual cakes as we do on large cakes (compared to just one and half times back in 2003,” points out Mintel.
The market research firm said that this tendency is not necessarily down to a desire to eat less sweet and fatty treats for health reasons, but rather consumers having less time to partake in traditional afternoon tea with family members or colleagues. Thus, they prefer products in smaller packages that they can eat alone, on the go.
Less consumption could be a side effect of carrying a small cake in one’s hand bag to eat away from home, however, since that means there is far less chance of going back of second helpings.
Portion size focus
The trend towards smaller sizes for sweet treats looks to be in keeping with Food Standards Agency’s current campaign to reduce saturated fat and energy intake in the UK population.
Part of this campaign involves scope for smaller or standardised portion sizes for some products pre-packed to provide individual servings. Demonstrating that there is demand from consumers for smaller-sized products – whether for health or convenience reason – will add clout to marketeer arguments for new product formats.
The government agency recently conducted research on the relative sizes of various food products now, compared with 15 to 20 years ago.
It found that in premium products, including muffins, cookies, luxury crisps and luxury ice creams and chocolate, larger portion sizes are now available. These are sometimes billed as 'sharer' packs.
Traditional and standard products, like cakes and biscuits, look to have remained the same size.
Some smaller portion sizes are also available for some products, like chocolate, savoury snacks, soft drinks and ice cream bars and comes, but these are often sold in the multi-pack format.
Following analysis of this data and other considerations, participants at a workshop in April recommended that the focus of future work, consumer advice and industry action on portion sizes should be on foods that contribute most to saturated fat intake. These include biscuits, cakes, meat products, savoury snacks, and dairy products and spreads.
Single serving, or 'impulse' purchases of sweet and savoury snacks, as well as sugary and other beverages, should also be prioritised, they said.
Selling individually-wrapped portions, as opposed to one product that can serve several people, will necessarily require more packaging materials.
This appears to run counter to efforts to reduce packaging and waste; According to Defra, in 2007 the UK disposed of an estimated 10.5 million tonnes of packaging waste, of which around 59 per cent of which was recovered and recycled.
However when it comes to food waste, if a large cake is not eaten in one sitting the risk is that it may be thrown away. Individually-wrapped products, on the other hand, stay fresh until opened and are eaten in one go. They are likely to be thrown away only if the best-before date is exceeded.