Sprinkles gives a taste of the future
The big overriding theme of the past two years in the baking industry, unsurprisingly, is how bakeries are coping with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies of all sizes have had to adapt to a new way of doing things, from food safety and labor shortages to marketing and product innovation.
This key word, innovation, is what bakery owners are concerned about. How do you stand out, when you are not only competing with other bakeries and catering establishments, but also facing a pandemic that is preventing consumers from living their normal lives and changing their shopping habits?
A shining example of this is Sprinkles (formerly Sprinkles Cupcakes). Founded in 2005 by Candace Nelson as “the world’s first cupcake bakery,” Sprinkles now has 24 locations across the United States, in addition to numerous other Cupcake ATMs. In March 2012, Sprinkles provided a new innovation in the world of baking with its system of cupcake vending machines (boxed and sold for $4 each), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Long before convenience became the name of the game in the bakery world, Sprinkles’ vending machines expanded the chain’s reach by selling products directly to consumers through automated systems attached to physical stores. Automated retail offered a chance to access additional customers with its products and increase revenue more profitably.
ATMs can now be found in several states, and you may even see one when entering the terminal when exiting your flight to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. They will soon be rolled out to other airports such as Dallas-Fort Worth and LAX.
Sprinkles’ latest makeover has taken it beyond its former moniker into uncharted territory, with an expansion of direct-to-consumer offerings, including a line of chocolates.
Focus on chocolate
In the spring of 2021, Sprinkles asked the question, “Why stop at cupcakes?” with a new line of products. The cupcake bakery chain has moved into the candy world with new chocolate bars based on popular cupcake flavors.
Sprinkles Chocolate is a line of premium chocolates inspired by the bakery’s best-selling cupcake flavors: Red Velvet, Dark Chocolate, Black & White and Sprinkle. Each piece is handcrafted and crafted from fine Belgian chocolate in smooth, unique flavors with the bakery’s signature swirl and modern dots and sprinkles.
The new range of chocolate bars includes:
- Red Velvet – Belgian milk and white chocolate finished with a signature swirl and modern dot
- Dark Chocolate – Belgian dark chocolate finished with a signature swirl and modern stitch
- Black & White – Belgian dark chocolate covered with Belgian white chocolate, topped with chocolate chips
- Sprinkle – Belgian white chocolate with unmatched colored sprinkles topped with unmatched colored sprinkles
The chocolate bars are available daily at Sprinkles stores across the United States as well as online for nationwide shipping. They can be purchased individually or as part of a matching gift box. All four flavors are also available in chocolate-covered popcorn, with caramel drizzled with Sprinkles’ signature Belgian chocolate flavors.
In the coming years, this line will expand with new flavors as Sprinkles seeks to offer expanded snacking options to its customers.
A laser focus on digital
Like all other bakeries, Sprinkles has had to adapt to changing times, says general manager Dan Mesches.
“Before the pandemic, we had pushed digital controls more, so we were in a privileged position in that regard,” he says. “We had a great app that worked before the pandemic and we’ve just improved it. We were updating our website and we’ve launched a Shopify version [in 2021] to facilitate our customers’ access to our bakery products.
The website features a new layout that better showcases the latest product news from Sprinkles. Additionally, the website has increased ordering capabilities, including pick-up and delivery options, availability for same-day/early or future orders, as well as a new catering service and of custom commands with an extensive menu with custom customization options.
The Sprinkles Now app allows customers to place an order through the app, track deliveries, and save favorite orders for quick and easy reordering. The Sprinkles Perks rewards program gives customers the opportunity to earn points for every purchase to redeem for special offers and birthday gifts. Users can also receive notifications for new menu items and special offers.
During the pandemic, Sprinkles also took the opportunity to revamp its store design for greater safety and convenience. All bakeries have switched to display cases and removed static menus in favor of screens behind the counters. Additionally, pre-orders can be picked up directly from the shelves to limit face-to-face interactions. Stores will also offer easy-to-use ordering kiosks, especially with rewards to redeem.
Mesches says the chain has also better integrated its ATMs, one of the most unique parts of its business, into its system.
“We’ve had ATMs for almost a decade, and during the pandemic we’ve seen huge increases in something that was already busy anyway. Before the pandemic, we had started putting them in airports and different shopping malls, which was a great success,” he says. “The product is freshly baked daily and changed daily.”
Mesches points out that Sprinkles was able to accelerate the timing of these changes to better serve its customers, which paid off.
“Things that might have happened in three years, happened in a year,” he says. “We have seen an increase in our sales not only during , but 2018 and 2019 too.
These commercial adaptations would be wasted if the bakery’s flavors weren’t appealing to customers, and to keep things fresh, Sprinkles also seeks continuous innovation in flavors and products.
One of Sprinkles’ most exciting cupcake flavors (and collaborations) of 2021 was its limited-edition Matcha Glow Up cupcake. He incorporated wellness brand Golde’s best-selling superfood products into his original recipe for the chain’s first-ever functional cupcake and a way to provide customers with an indulgent way to take care of themselves.
The Matcha Glow Up Cupcake featured a delicate matcha cupcake, filled with a coconut collagen cream core and frosted with a yuzu citrus buttercream. It was made with Golde’s Pure Matcha and Coconut Collagen Boost and was available at all Sprinkles bakeries for two days only on September 24-25.
Few bakeries use limited time offers (LTOs) quite like Sprinkles. In early January, for example, the bakery offered several unique flavors of cupcakes available only for a few days.
The Happy New Sprinkle Cupcake, available January 1-5, featured a birthday cake filled with nonpareils, topped with vanilla frosting and finished with nonpareil sprinkles and 2022 topper. The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Cupcake, first introduced in 2018 and brought back Jan. 10 for pre-order pickup and delivery only, features vanilla cake filled with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, topped with creamy white cheddar frosting and sprinkled with crushed spices Cheetos.
Although specializing in cupcakes, Sprinkles has expanded its product offering far beyond that. Cookies, including a new red velvet cookie that just launched, and naked cakes have been on the menu for years. The aforementioned chocolate line debuted in 2021 and at-home kits were created in 2020 in response to the pandemic. These kits provide mixes, recipes, frosting, sprinkles, decorations, baking pans and spatulas, all to create a fun activity for individuals and families for a time when it was needed.
The Sprinkles development team is made up of passionate people from across the food industry, including restaurants, bakeries, CPGs (consumer packaged goods) and more. They constantly use good food, social media being a main source, as inspiration in their planning sessions.
All of his innovations changed Sprinkle’s trajectory for the better. The biggest difference since the company’s inception is how it has applied this innovation to each individual bakery.
“What’s really different is learning how to run bakeries across the United States,” says Mesches. “Really making sure we have a phenomenal product in every bakery. And it wasn’t before, it just takes time to learn that and make sure it’s working properly.
Mesches is excited about Sprinkles’ future. Demand for its products across the country and beyond has accelerated growth. Over the next few years, locations will appear in new areas with heavy customer traffic.
“You will see our continued growth in company-owned stores and ATMs. You will see us franchised nationwide with excellent restaurateurs and bakers. You will probably see the international as well,” he says.