Cupcake Economics 101

Photo courtesy of Sweet Es - Choc Chip Cookie DoughIt’s been a decade since cupcakes hit the scene and transformed popular culture, becoming a phenomenon that transcends age and backgrounds.

Today, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. It isn’t uncommon to wait in long lines at the best bakeries. Moreover, many know the average price of these frosted delicacies.

The other day, I was forced to take pause, as I came across a bakery that refuted two long-standing cupcake beliefs. In doing so, it also made me question cupcake economics.

Sweet E’s in Los Angeles, California promotes itself as “the mini bake shop”. It’s intended to be the perfect size to satisfy your sweet tooth. They have appeared on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.

Like some of their Southern California competitors, Sweet E’s does business from multiple locations, their shop and their mobile truck. For this cupcake recon, I found their mobile truck at a food event closer to home.

I appraised their selection and noticed they did not appear to be “mini”. Their associate advised they were more regular size. Since I don’t have a small sweet tooth anyway, I made my purchase.

I started with their Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcake. It’s a vanilla cupcake, with chocolate chips and chocolate chip cookie dough frosting.

Cupcake Belief #1:  There’s no such thing as too much frosting – until this cupcake.

The frosting to cake ratio was ridiculously unbalanced. It was 65 percent frosting and 35 percent cake. I had to ration the cake to consume with the frosting. Trust me, the cake needed this frosting. It was dry and crumbly. The frosting was satisfying. However, did I really pay $3.50 for mostly frosting and a smaller than average size cake?

Photo courtesy of Sweet Es - Blue VelvetThe next night, I tried Sweet E’s Blue Velvet Cupcake. It’s a twist on traditional Red Velvet, a chocolate cupcake with blue food coloring, blueberries and cream cheese frosting.

This was my first Blue Velvet experience and it wasn’t pleasant.

Cupcake Belief #2: I never met a cupcake that I didn’t like – until this one.

The only good part about this cupcake was the frosting. Contrary, to the previous cupcake, this ratio left me wanting more frosting. I guess they’re less generous with cream cheese than buttercream.

Like before, the cake was dry and crumbly. Its size was below average. The blueberries were so small, I wondered if they were dehydrated. I’m more accustomed to plump, fresh berries. Once the frosting was finished, I discarded the remaining cake, something I rarely do.

I give Sweet E’s 2.5 out of 5 stars. It’s unlikely I will return. Not only did they fail to meet quality expectations, but also I did not receive the quantity for the price paid. There was no value.

As a cupcake connoisseur with marketing experience, I’m in a unique position to appreciate both sides. I do understand that the cupcake industry is a business. However, as consumers, perhaps we should be more conscientious before giving bakers our money so willingly.

Just because it’s smaller, frosted and alluring, doesn’t mean it’s a good cupcake or it’s worth it.


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