Talking To Customers Who Have A "cake Mix" Palate

Business By bostont Updated 19 Jan 2011 , 9:40am by scp1127

bostont Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 5:30am
post #1 of 94

I've ~read the post on cake mix vs. scratch made, and after around 100 pages, I realized that the topic on that thread is not what I'm trying to understand. So..

I am a scratch baker, using fresh, natural and organic ingredients when are available. So, when I graduated from pastry school and launched a cake business, I thought people would love the cakes I bake.

I understand that scratch made cakes have a different texture and mouth feel. But apparently, there are a lot of people out there that don't.

A box mix had a moist, tender, "melt in your mouth" feel.... scratch cakes don't necessarily have this. Now, some scratch cakes do... my chocolate, etc. But my white and yellow cakes just don't seem to compare to the box mixes.

Although I can taste the chemicals in those purchased mixes, I've sadly begun to realize that most of my customers cannot... they have trained their palettes to expect that flavor, that texture and that "melt in your mouth" mouth feel from a box mix in spite of all the chemicals used in their formulas.


So, my question is to professional cake bakers... how do you feel about this? Are you using cake mixes? Are you scratch bakers? And for those scratch bakers... how do you talk to a client that says "I just see your cake as a delivery device for your icing."

I don't want to be rude, and I certainly believe that a bride deserves to have exactly what she wants on her wedding day. So... should I reconsider and use box mixes?

93 replies
Loucinda Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 5:49am
post #2 of 94

I am in business to make money. Making money requires that I make what my clients want/like. I KNOW what sells, therefore, that is what I make.

Do what suits you and your business. Personally, I don't even offer scratch cakes anymore, no one ever wanted them. My best sellers are doctored mixes.

myslady Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 6:09am
post #3 of 94

As a business owner, it is your decision as to what you sell. If your recipes are not performing up to what your clients want, you can either keep them or tweek them to something they would prefer. Look at your other recipes and figure out what accounts for the differences.

In general, some people just don't really care about the cake. It seems that the one who cares about it the most is the person who baked it.
If the client expresses they don't really care, then move on with the conversation.

rowingmom Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 6:13am
post #4 of 94

I understand what you are talking about. I have no trouble with my chocolate cakes and carrot etc.., but often I get comments that my white cakes are dry. I have been trying quite a few recipes and find that generally people like the white cake better if I make it with a sour cream/ milk mix instead of just milk and if I use shortening instead of butter. The other thing I do is add moistening syrups to the cakes depending on the flavor combinations. Other than that I figure either they like what I do or they don't.

jillyscakes Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 6:34am
post #5 of 94

I don't have the same problem here as most cakes are baked from scratch in the UK very few people use box mixes. However the motto here is the customer should always be right therefore give them what they want even if its not to your taste it is theirs and they are the ones paying for it, if you don't someone else will.

JanH Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 7:22am
post #6 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by bostont

I don't want to be rude, and I certainly believe that a bride deserves to have exactly what she wants on her wedding day. So... should I reconsider and use box mixes?




Marketing is or should also be part of your business plan. icon_smile.gif

You don't want to attract brides who like/want cake mix cakes and then have to try to convince them of the benefits of organic baking (or be forced to compromise by using mixes).

You want to attract brides who WANT organic cakes from the get-go. Make "organic" the focal point of your marketing strategy and you'll never have to have a "cake mix palate" talk with your customers.

After all, you don't want every customer who's looking for a cake; you want the customers who are looking for custom decorated, organic cakes and understand the higher costs involved in producing these high-end delicacies.

If you do want ALL the customers, you'll also have to prepare for the "champagne taste on a beer budget" Wal-Mart cake pricing talk in addition to the "cake mix palate" discussion....

HTH

cupcake_cutie Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 8:26am
post #7 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by JanH

Quote:
Originally Posted by bostont

I don't want to be rude, and I certainly believe that a bride deserves to have exactly what she wants on her wedding day. So... should I reconsider and use box mixes?



Marketing is or should also be part of your business plan. icon_smile.gif

You don't want to attract brides who like/want cake mix cakes and then have to try to convince them of the benefits of organic baking (or be forced to compromise by using mixes).

You want to attract brides who WANT organic cakes from the get-go. Make "organic" the focal point of your marketing strategy and you'll never have to have a "cake mix palate" talk with your customers.

After all, you don't want every customer who's looking for a cake; you want the customers who are looking for custom decorated, organic cakes and understand the higher costs involved in producing these high-end delicacies.

If you do want ALL the customers, you'll also have to prepare for the "champagne taste on a beer budget" Wal-Mart cake pricing talk in addition to the "cake mix palate" discussion....

HTH



thumbs_up.gif

scp1127 Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 8:58am
post #8 of 94

Just because a cake is from scratch does not mean it is good. My cakes are from scratch and the question of a box mix has never come up. Again, it is all in your marketing. I market to a higher income clientele who know I use quality ingredients. Fine ingredients and a great recipe will make a cake that even box lovers will love. You don't have to compare them, they are just different. There is a market for both styles of baking but I think the dilema for some people, not all, is trying to market to both. Look at the restaurant industry. Their diversity proves there is an unlimited opportunity to please the american palate. I like some box mixes and enhanced mixes personally, but in my business, I can't confuse the marketing message.

Loucinda Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 1:51pm
post #9 of 94

What ever you decide to do, good luck. I think it is great that you are trying to figure out what will work best for you and your clients!

Just an FYI, even though I use doctored mixes for the most part, I have a very good client base, and have plenty of high end cake orders. Using the doctored mixes does not make me a target for the "budget walmart brides". I get "this is the best cake I have ever eaten" comment quite often. icon_smile.gif

dynee Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 2:15pm
post #10 of 94

I am a hobby baker and I personally love most scratch cake mixes but when I started out, I used box mixes using oil and 2 T. white corn syrup and people said "it was the best they had ever eaten". Then for my first wedding cake, I needed to use larger batches for larger pans so I mixed one box mix with one batch of scratch mix for the wedding white cakes and they said "it was the best they had ever eaten". At the time I thought it was the best of both. Now I have gradually gone to all scratch cakes and people are still saying "it was the best they had ever eaten". I can't explain it except that most people have no idea what they are eating, but I enjoy making scratch cakes so that is what I do.

-K8memphis Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 2:25pm
post #11 of 94

I think that Italian cream cake, carrot, apple, and fudgey chocolate cake, etc. obviously can have a more chewy, texturous mouthfeel. But white and yellow cakes to me should be melt in your mouth consistency therefore are the litmus test for all bakers.

Now I can make a great white cake but I would not use it for a wedding. I use extended cake mix for the wonderful holding properties in it.

If your clients specify unbleached whole wheat pastry flour--hey guess what? Not so melt in your mouth huh. So I think you are on the right track to dial this in for yourself. Make those decisions and market them as has already been discussed. You could also offer both kinds with caveats highlighted in a positive way.

Classic melt in your mouth white cake
Wholesome white/satin cake from the purest organic ingredients

Or call one satin cake--stuff like that maybe. Because unbleached ww pastry flour isn't going to necessarily produce a white colored cake either. Call it 'natural' cake maybe.

Honestly unless you're in a major population area 'natural' cake ain't gonna pay the bills either.

-K8memphis Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 2:35pm
post #12 of 94

One other thing--recipe white cake is so much more fragile than a box base cake--has a two to three day shelf life or less depending. If you just even chill it you've changed the texture downward--so no fillings that have to be friged. Gets confusing. It also needs to be able to sit at room temp for a couple hours served up on a plate and not get a dry edge. Not easy to do.

Wedding cake is a performance cake. It has to work hard for you. When it's served you are serving all kinds of palettes. Soft and tender is expected by the majority of guests even if the wedding couple are nature loving vegans.

Thoughts for you.

playingwithsugar Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 2:39pm
post #13 of 94

I live in PA but spent a lot of time commuting to NYC. One day the bus driver on the home trip mentioned that he had bought a dessert cake from a bakery near Port Authority, and was disappointed in it. He said it was too dense, very fudgy, and the frosting was very, very light.

I had to explain to him that their cakes were made from scratch, not a mix, which gives the light texture, that you can tell by the taste (I've had their cakes and I love them) that they use melted chocolate, not cocoa powder in their batter, and that they're using a meringue buttercream, not a shortening-based, powdered sugar frosting (the PS formula is probably the most popular type of frosting here). Therefore, all the tastes and textures will be different.

It's only in the past couple of years that artisan cakeries are showing up here, and honestly, I'm not sure how well any of them are doing. In the situations where I have been asked to price cakes (my event cakes are all scratch), I have priced per serve under the going rate for scratch cakes here, and nobody wants to pay the price. In the long run, that's fine with me because I'm not licensed, although I will admit that I'm sometimes tempted because the extra money could really be used.

Theresa icon_smile.gif

cakenovice2010 Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 2:55pm
post #14 of 94

I agree about changing the name of the cake and pushing the organic and all natural ingredients. I never use to be one of those people until I discovered that something in the white/yellow box cake mixes makes me extremely ill.

I mentioned on my facebook that I was testing out some gluten free and vegan recipes and got two orders and I live in a very picky area where people are mostly for the box mix style of cake.

I think adding flavouring oils is something that can enhance the cakes if you experiment you'll get some awesome results. I did that for my scratch white cake mix and did a caramel apple flavour and it was really moist and tasty. (I hate the word moist but there is no other way to describe it. lol)

Maybe play with some flavouring oils and do a cake testing day where you have customers come in and try out small samples and vote on their favourite flavours? A fun way to create a little buzz and get local feedback icon_smile.gif

-K8memphis Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 2:58pm
post #15 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by cakenovice2010

...I agree about changing the name of the cake and pushing the organic and all natural ingredients. I never use to be one of those people until I discovered that something in the white/yellow box cake mixes makes me extremely ill...




What is it that made you sick?

adonisthegreek1 Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 3:09pm
post #16 of 94

After graduating from pastry school, I was very disappointed to learn that most people prefer a boxed cake to a scratch cake. I make doctored cake mix cakes for white and yellow cakes. I bake scratch cakes for chocolate, red velvet, carrot and other specialty cakes. People do not seem to like the texture of scratch yellow or white cakes.

playingwithsugar Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 3:26pm
post #17 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by cakenovice2010

...I discovered that something in the white/yellow box cake mixes makes me extremely ill.




Probably the fake vanilla they use. I can't stand the smell of it - & it tastes like metal to me.

Don't get me wrong - I use cake mixes when I do practice cakes or make cake mix cookies, but when it comes to vanilla, the only cake mix I can use that doesn't irritate my senses of smell and taste is the BC Golden Vanilla. It's not nearly as harsh as the others.

Theresa icon_smile.gif

rosa369 Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 3:31pm
post #18 of 94

I'm sooo glad that this discussion was brough up. I'm a scratch baker and I have the same problem with my cakes that sometimes they come out dry. I have tried doctored them but still they don't come out in the way I want.

bostont Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 3:36pm
post #19 of 94

Thanks to all that have posted. I will try to address many of the posts at the same time in this one post.

Someone wrote: "As a business owner, it is your decision as to what you sell. If your recipes are not performing up to what your clients want, you can either keep them or tweek them to something they would prefer. Look at your other recipes and figure out what accounts for the differences."

I'm not questioning my ability or my recipes. But rather, how other professionals handle those customers that really like the idea of organic, but are caught off guard when they taste scratch made when they are used to mixes. I do have a following that really like my cakes, but there is that other market and from what I've experienced in the last year, I really need to address that market.

From one post: "I had to explain to him that their cakes were made from scratch, not a mix, which gives the light texture, that you can tell by the taste (I've had their cakes and I love them) that they use melted chocolate, not cocoa powder in their batter, and that they're using a meringue buttercream, not a shortening-based, powdered sugar frosting (the PS formula is probably the most popular type of frosting here). Therefore, all the tastes and textures will be different."

This type of thinking is exactly what I am speaking of. I can advertise "organic" and explain my cakes, all I want, but that doesn't mean people really understand. I have baked exactly the cake referred to in the above quote, and received the same comments. From my perspective, just because you explain the difference to some people, it doesn't mean they will "suddenly like it."

"In general, some people just don't really care about the cake. It seems that the one who cares about it the most is the person who baked it.
If the client expresses they don't really care, then move on with the conversation."


I've never met anyone that didn't care about the cake. It seems to me that clients are not only interested in the design, but rather, they want a cake that tastes as good as it looks. It could be that with all the cake shows on television, the average client is getting educated. But perhaps not in a way that actually helps cake designers.

"If you do want ALL the customers, you'll also have to prepare for the "champagne taste on a beer budget" Wal-Mart cake pricing talk in addition to the "cake mix palate" discussion.... "

Perhaps all brides to some extent have that champagne taste, but not the budget. The cake shows are wonderful, but they do make the process look so easy, and most of them don't go near pricing. So many brides have sticker shock when they find out that the cake of their dreams will cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

As one poster said, "I bake what sells".

Another: "You could also offer both kinds with caveats highlighted in a positive way.

Classic melt in your mouth white cake
Wholesome white/satin cake from the purest organic ingredients

Or call one satin cake--stuff like that maybe. Because unbleached ww pastry flour isn't going to necessarily produce a white colored cake either. Call it 'natural' cake maybe.

Honestly unless you're in a major population area 'natural' cake ain't gonna pay the bills either."


I'm beginning to think taking a staunch stand on principle isn't gonna pay the bills either.

Thanks everyone for the posts and PMs.

cakenovice2010 Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 3:50pm
post #20 of 94

Not sure, it could just be a difference in sugar content or something to do with gluten? I'm being tested for Celiac Disease. I always eat chocolate cake but the handful of times I've had white cake mix I get ill within an hour afterwards and stay ill for the next day or so.

My mother thought it was strange because she remembered my Great Uncle had the same reaction.

Charmed Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 3:58pm
post #21 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by -K8memphis

One other thing--recipe white cake is so much more fragile than a box base cake--has a two to three day shelf life or less depending. If you just even chill it you've changed the texture downward--so no fillings that have to be friged. Gets confusing. It also needs to be able to sit at room temp for a couple hours served up on a plate and not get a dry edge. Not easy to do.

Wedding cake is a performance cake. It has to work hard for you. When it's served you are serving all kinds of palettes. Soft and tender is expected by the majority of guests even if the wedding couple are nature loving vegans.

Thoughts for you.



you mentioned that you use a extended cake mix do you mean the WASC recipe?

-K8memphis Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 4:17pm
post #22 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Charmed

Quote:
Originally Posted by -K8memphis

One other thing--recipe white cake is so much more fragile than a box base cake--has a two to three day shelf life or less depending. If you just even chill it you've changed the texture downward--so no fillings that have to be friged. Gets confusing. It also needs to be able to sit at room temp for a couple hours served up on a plate and not get a dry edge. Not easy to do.

Wedding cake is a performance cake. It has to work hard for you. When it's served you are serving all kinds of palettes. Soft and tender is expected by the majority of guests even if the wedding couple are nature loving vegans.

Thoughts for you.


you mentioned that you use a extended cake mix do you mean the WASC recipe?




I use self rising flour and that same formula sans salt --no pudding--

I use the box mix, one cup self rising flour, 1 cup extra fine granulated sugar, 2 whole eggs, 2 egg whites, a little oil, 1 cup sour cream, more vanilla, 1 & 1/3 cups liquid.

cakesdivine Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 4:26pm
post #23 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Loucinda

What ever you decide to do, good luck. I think it is great that you are trying to figure out what will work best for you and your clients!

Just an FYI, even though I use doctored mixes for the most part, I have a very good client base, and have plenty of high end cake orders. Using the doctored mixes does not make me a target for the "budget walmart brides". I get "this is the best cake I have ever eaten" comment quite often. icon_smile.gif




Lou I couldn't have said it better myself! Exactly what I do too. Have NEVER had a client get upset with the flavor or moistness of my cakes. That is what sells people on my cakes, is my doctored creations and most of all my scratch buttercreams.

rosa369 Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 4:28pm
post #24 of 94

Now, what will be a good cake mix beside DH or BC? A professional one like the one that use the professional cake decorators. Where can you find it, beside the new Ice of Cake mix? Professional decoretors, where do you get you cake mixes?????

bostont Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 4:47pm
post #25 of 94

Well,
I am off to my kitchen with purchased cake mixes in hand. I have quite a few different "doctored creations" recipes. So... I will bake some variations along with my control cake (my scratch recipe) and see what happens.

sounds like I'm back in "Food Science" class for all those bakery school chefs...

cownsj Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 5:03pm
post #26 of 94

I know there are cake shops that use mixes and don't say a word to their clients. My husband worked for a short time for a high end specialty cupcake shop, just outside NYC and he had to sign a waiver not to divulge that information to their clients. So clearly, they were not telling anyone they used a box mix, and they do a thriving business. (They also used canned frosting) So I don't know why you would feel the necessity to share that information unless someone asks. Even then, you could simply say you don't give your secrets away. It just seems to me it's the bakers themselves who are more conscious and feel the need to "come clean" with this fact, not the customers. JMO He's also worked at all scratch bakeries and the discussion never came up there either, not by either the bakery or the customers.

jason_kraft Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 5:21pm
post #27 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by cakenovice2010

Not sure, it could just be a difference in sugar content or something to do with gluten? I'm being tested for Celiac Disease. I always eat chocolate cake but the handful of times I've had white cake mix I get ill within an hour afterwards and stay ill for the next day or so.



Unless the chocolate cake was flourless, the culprit is probably not gluten, since chocolate cake typically contains flour with gluten.

There are several gluten-free box mixes available these days, trying a GF white cake mix would help to determine if you have a gluten intolerance.

jason_kraft Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 5:31pm
post #28 of 94

Part of the problem might be the type flour being used. We use exclusively cake flour (as opposed to all-purpose flour) for our cakes that contain gluten...cake flour is milled from soft wheat and has a lower gluten content, which makes the cake more tender and moist. All-purpose flour is a mixture of hard and soft wheat, which leads to a denser product.

Charmed Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 7:21pm
post #29 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by -K8memphis

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charmed

Quote:
Originally Posted by -K8memphis

One other thing--recipe white cake is so much more fragile than a box base cake--has a two to three day shelf life or less depending. If you just even chill it you've changed the texture downward--so no fillings that have to be friged. Gets confusing. It also needs to be able to sit at room temp for a couple hours served up on a plate and not get a dry edge. Not easy to do.

Wedding cake is a performance cake. It has to work hard for you. When it's served you are serving all kinds of palettes. Soft and tender is expected by the majority of guests even if the wedding couple are nature loving vegans.

Thoughts for you.


you mentioned that you use a extended cake mix do you mean the WASC recipe?




I use self rising flour and that same formula sans salt --no pudding--

I use the box mix, one cup self rising flour, 1 cup extra fine granulated sugar, 2 whole eggs, 2 egg whites, a little oil, 1 cup sour cream, more vanilla, 1 & 1/3 cups liquid.




Thanks for the recipe thumbs_up.gif

costumeczar Posted 3 Jan 2011 , 7:44pm
post #30 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by JanH

Quote:
Originally Posted by bostont

I don't want to be rude, and I certainly believe that a bride deserves to have exactly what she wants on her wedding day. So... should I reconsider and use box mixes?



Marketing is or should also be part of your business plan. icon_smile.gif

You don't want to attract brides who like/want cake mix cakes and then have to try to convince them of the benefits of organic baking (or be forced to compromise by using mixes).

You want to attract brides who WANT organic cakes from the get-go. Make "organic" the focal point of your marketing strategy and you'll never have to have a "cake mix palate" talk with your customers.

After all, you don't want every customer who's looking for a cake; you want the customers who are looking for custom decorated, organic cakes and understand the higher costs involved in producing these high-end delicacies.

If you do want ALL the customers, you'll also have to prepare for the "champagne taste on a beer budget" Wal-Mart cake pricing talk in addition to the "cake mix palate" discussion....

HTH





What she said! I don't use mixes, and if someone wants a mix they wouldn't come to me since I advertise that I don't. If you tailor your marketing to the client base that you want, they will find you.

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