Look Out, Cupcake: 2011 Is the Year of the Pie

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slice of blackberry pie - cupcake pieAccording to market research from the NPD Group, Americans ordered up 12 million more slices of pie at restaurants in 2010 than they did in 2009, while cake sales took a hit. Meanwhile, cupcakes experienced a sugar low (U.S. consumers surveyed said they ate 18% fewer cupcakes at home). Is the cupcake fad getting stale? Time to invest in pie tins?Linda Hoskins, executive director of Illinois-based, American Pie Council, reports pie is definitely gaining in popularity. In fact, Hoskins told WalletPop this year's National Pie Day (Jan. 23) was the most successful ever, boasting increased participation, more contests, giveaways, coupons, activities and free pie (1,000 slices donated from Baker's Square to the frosty fans tailgating in nine-degree weather at the Chicago NFL playoff game).

Not to be outdone, cupcakes have their day, too (December 15), and of course, National Baked Alaska Day (Feb. 1) will be here before we know it...but that's another story.

Andrew Freeman, a consultant for the restaurant industry, told the Los Angeles Times, "Pie is hot. We predict that there will be dedicated pie shops and pie carts and pie trucks opening in the next year." In many cities, they're already on the roll. In Houston, mobile food vendor Oh My! Pocket Pies has thrown down the oven mitt and declared 2011 the Year of the Pie.

Washington, D.C. boasts the Dangerously Delicious Truck, a purveyor of both sweet and savory pies. One fan Yelped, "I am a self-professed lover of pie ... [pie] lends itself perfectly to the food truck concept because the pies are already made and service is quick ... just be prepared to spend a bit."

Another reviewer agreed, "The [Dangerously Delicious] truck is definitely pricey, but man does the pie make up for that. $7.50 is a lot for a slice of pie, but when that slice is really a giant slab of pie stuffed with delicious bbq pork, then the price is a lot easier to deal with. Who knew pie crust would pair with meat so much better than bread?"

Aha! So, perhaps it's versatility that's winning back our hearts and wallets.

Los Angeles-based Suga' Pies' owner Kelsey Smith reported that wedding planners are also saying "I do" to pie, according to the Times article. She has provided the all-American dessert for several weddings in the past few months. One bride ordered 200 "lolli-pies, little pies on a stick -- that were handed out as party favors." Another bride said she rejected wedding cake as "flavorless" and cupcakes as "ubiquitous." "There's something comforting about pie," she told the Times. "I liked the old-fashionedness of it."

In fact, the APC has even added a new challenge to April's National Pie Championships in Orlando, Fla. this year: Create a Royal Wedding Pie, fit for a king. Hoskins said with the Prince of England getting married just weeks after the competition, the council thought it would be fun to find out what people would deem "worthy" of royalty.

In comparison to cupcakes, "Pie is so much more of a dessert," said Hoskins, "I think the fruit aspect of [some] pies give them a lot of appeal as well." Like cupcakes, Hoskins points out many pies are being personalized with smaller single-portion sizes and individual details. "They are small, cute little pies."

Hoskins also noted, "The people who make pie are very proud and passionate about their dessert...they love their product." The flames of that passion are fanned on the APC Facebook page where pie lovers share photos and reviews of their creations. "People are trying all of things," said Hoskins, including Banana Split Pie, Ruby Red Grapefruit Meringue, Dreamy Apple Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and a Caramel Drizzle, and Wet Bottom Shoo Fly Pie, to name a few.

Still, cupcakes have their own cable TV show,Cupcake Wars on the Food Network, and they're currently casting new talent for season 3. Either they haven't heard it's the Year of the Pie, or they just don't care.

Stacia Samartan, co-owner of Frosted Cupcakery with shops in Long Beach and Hollywood, Calif., has been in the business for more than five years and has seen challengers come and go. "Almost every year, there's something popping up," Samartan told WalletPop. "People say, Oh! Macaroons! Macaroons are going to be the new cupcake." But Samartan said she doesn't feel threatened, or tempted to add pie (or macaroons) to her menus.

"We have stuck with the long time tradition of the kind of cupcakes you would make at home. I don't think the traditional cupcake will ever go out of fashion. It's a single serving, you don't have to feel bad about eating it. It's not like eating a whole pie."

Bottom line, Samartan says there's always room in the market for more dessert. In fact, she credits the healthy competition to yet another trend. "I think people are responding to specialty shops in general," said Samartan, "because you can do a really great job of one thing. And that's why we wouldn't want to add pie to the menu because we want to make the best cupcake you can find."

Samartan reports business has risen steadily over the past five years and just keeps "growing and growing." Although she admits an indulgence might come along to replace the monstrous, over-sized (read: trendy) cupcakes of late, her faith in traditional cupcakes remains unshaken. As for an onslaught of pie vendors, Samartan says, "It sounds like fun." Perhaps a sweet translation for: Bring it on!

NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs had this to say to the Times, however, "I'm not going to say that cupcakes are gone, but they're an expensive, trendy indulgence, and right now, consumers have cut back on things that are considered indulgences."
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