Is The Gilded Age Of Cupcakes Finally Ending?

From shops selling oversize cupcakes tricked out with all manner of candies, nuts, drizzles, icings and whatnot, to multiple reality shows based solely around the art of baking cupcakes, the treat that had once been relegated to classroom parties grew into a huge business during the last decade. But have we finally had our fill of the sweet treats?

The Wall Street Journal has a surprisingly in-depth look at the possibly faltering gourmet cupcake industry. It focuses primarily on the fate of big-name companies like Crumbs, which — for those unfamiliar with the chain — has 67 stores that sell cupcakes the size of a baby’s head.

Crumbs went public in 2011 and was soon selling shares on Nasdaq at $13 a pop. As of a few minutes ago, those shares were selling for $1.42, less than 1/3 the cost of your average Crumbs confection.

Last week, the company said sales for the full year would be down by 22% from earlier projections. It put some of the blame on stores that were closed last fall because of Hurricane Sandy, but other cupcake hawkers are having similar troubles.

Some say the early success of Crumbs and a handful of others — along with the fact that just about anyone can try their hand at selling cupcakes — has led to a glut of folks trying to make it big at selling small cakes.

Between the cannibalizing effect of competing stores and consumers’ ever-fluctuating tastes, some companies have taken a big hit recently. The owner of one store in Jersey City tells the Journal that she’s now lucky to get half the daily sails revenue she was bringing in only a year ago.

“People get tired of things,” she says, pointing out that two similar stores have popped up in her area in just the last year. “It’s very competitive.”

The exec. VP of food industry research firm Technomic explains that the problem with cupcake stores is that they are “singularly focused concepts… It’s a short-term trend and we’re starting to see a real saturation…. Demand is flat. And quite frankly, people can bake cupcakes.”

Not everyone is crying into their batter about the great cupcake crash of 2013.

The famous — though in my opinion (oh boy will I get hate mail for this) overrated — Magnolia bakery in Manhattan claims that its stores remain profitable. Part of this may be due to the fact that Magnolia only relies on its well-known cupcakes for about half of its sales, choosing to offer a wide variety of other baked goods in addition to the cupcakes.

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