(This article appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
“Pivot” may be the most overused and maligned word of 2020, yet also the most appropriate. With thousands of businesses scrambling on short notice to either close or change their business model, those surviving chose to change direction and adapt. One creative pathway some pastry operations have chosen is prepackaging their goods to ensure a safer, low-touch approach. Whether they arrive in a pretty package tied with a bow, a simple pastry box or even a glass jar, pastries are reaching customers in all kinds of inventive ways, and many businesses have their sights set on continuing this trend, well after the pandemic is over.
For Maison Danel in San Francisco, California, customer experience is everything. They built their business in 2019 as an elegant tea salon and patisserie concept. After closing and sheltering in place for several months, they took that time to figure out how they could offer a similar experience to customers, all packaged up neatly for them in a box. “If they can’t have that beautiful, elegant, refined experience in our tea salon, they can then take it home with them,” explains co-owner David de Betelu. For him and his husband Danel, no detail is too small. Their Le Classique Afternoon Tea Box offers a selection of sandwiches and mini viennoiserie, along with accompaniments like chocolate ganache and earl grey whipped cream, all individually packaged in their own boxes and jars. Loose leaf tea is included, along with a filter for those who may not have their own tea accoutrements, and even doilies are provided so the customer can plate an elegant service in the comfort of their homes.
Though the boxed pastries and tea services were developed in response to the Covid-19 shutdown, their packaging was already in development when the pandemic hit. “It was sort of my little passion project,” de Betelu explains, noting that because of his marketing and branding background, it was already something he had put a great deal of thought into as they were growing the business. The box designs, color schemes, and even the ribbons were all carefully considered, and though they found it challenging during the pandemic to source the products, they ultimately arrived and gave Maison Danel the chance to reopen.
Halfway across the country in Austin, Texas, pandemic packaging was on the mind of pastry chef Kendall Melton as well. Though rather than shifting an existing business model, she created a new one entirely from scratch, just like her croissants. Vivian’s Boulangerie, named for the beloved cat who passed away recently, was born from an opportunity to partner with a local delivery service app called Vinder. Instead of simply hawking buttery croissants to get her name out there during quarantine, Melton took the time to develop her brand identity and product assortment. With a whimsical kitty logo and the intention to donate some of her proceeds to worthy causes, she began selling a variety of items such as croissants, tiger claws (think the feline version of bear claws) and a variety of syrups, expanding the menu as she deems necessary. High quality and locally sourced ingredients, as well as recyclable packaging were of the utmost importance. She also adds a personal touch with a handwritten note for each order, which helps her establish a loyal customer base during a time when in-person interaction is difficult.
Not all experiences need well-designed packaging, of course. Little Tart Bakeshop in Atlanta, Georgia, hopes to develop branded packaging eventually, but as of right now, their pre-orders arrive in plain pastry boxes. “The reaction was really incredible at the beginning of the pandemic, when many places were completely closed,” notes owner Sarah O’Brian. “I think our weekly pastry box pickup was a bright spot for a lot of people in our community.” They developed a variety of boxes of their best sellers to make customers happy but to also pare down the menu to make it manageable given the circumstances. Items range from croissant samplers to vegan pastries and even full carrot cakes, and much like Vivian’s, a personalized note can be included for that added touch.
Cake businesses were hit particularly hard, the celebration seasons of weddings and graduations essentially put on hold indefinitely. While focusing on smaller celebration cakes for intimate social gatherings seems the obvious move, there is still a significant challenge to generate revenue some other way. BCakeNY in Brooklyn, New York, faced an uphill battle against cancellations and deposit return requests. Rather than shutter, they got creative by redesigning their website to make ordering cakes, cookies and cupcakes easier and developed a line of cake jars available for pickup and delivery. The jars, which are large “quarantine-sized” 16-ounce mason jars filled with cake and buttercream, were an instant success. “We call them comfort jars,” says owner Miriam Milord, which is exactly what people were looking for while staying inside. The jars were an idea the shop was toying with pre-pandemic, as they are an excellent way to upcycle the cake scraps inevitably leftover from trimming. Once they figured out how to properly package and ship the jars, they were off and running. “They travel well. We figured out a way to keep them cold for two to three days, so we can really reach any place you are,” she explains.
Milord says they intend to continue selling their cake jars even when the large cake orders materialize again, noting they are perfect to send out to friends and families to celebrate long distance. That same sentiment is shared by many who realize that prepacked goods can remain a separate revenue stream regardless if or when business goes back to normal. For Melton, prepackaged pastries are her way of life now, hopefully en route to a brick and mortar location in the future. And Mason Danel has taken on the challenge to continually innovate, investigating a ready-to-bake croissant that allows customers to freeze and bake them fresh whenever they want. Now that the pandemic has pushed businesses to reexamine their menu efficiencies, create online platforms to improve customer experience and develop the best shipping logistics for their market, prepackaging may become a permanent strategy in the pastry world.
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