At some time everyone has taken a break from a hard few hours of shopping for a pick-me-up - maybe a coffee and a slice of cake or a cup of tea and a scone. Or made the tedious morning meeting more bearable with a hot drink and some pastries.
While there are certain times of the day when we tend to tuck into a whole plateful of food, namely lunch and dinner, there is no such restriction on our consumption of sweet bakery treats.
Bernhard Neumeister, managing director of frozen premium baked goods supplier Erlenbacher, says eating occasions for bakery goods are "any time of the day when coffee or tea is served - breakfast, afternoon tea, snacks, catch-ups with friends over drinks, lunch, dinner. There are no rules. Cakes go great with coffee, whatever the occasion".
At Delice de France, marketing director Jon Smythe highlights research from Nestlé and Allegra that indicates a massive 77 million cups of coffee are drunk in the UK every day and that nearly 71% of people say they buy food with their coffee.
Delice de France recently launched a new campaign to support coffee shops and food service outlets hoping to capitalise on the still-growing café culture in the UK and Café Delice includes various support packages to help food service outlets maximise opportunities for sales of high-quality baked products and snacks.
Smythe adds: "As bakery products feature among the top five food items enjoyed with tea and coffee, this highlights a significant opportunity for food service outlets to boost sales of quality baked products."
Through its own research, Dawn Foods recently determined the UK's "Signature Sweet Treat" as scones with cream and jam and a separate study indicated that consumers' favourite chocolate sweet treat was a chocolate brownie.
"The rise in popularity of things like afternoon tea has seen sales of scones rise across the UK," says marketing manager at Dawn Foods, Jacqui Passmore. "We've noticed our own scones mix sales have risen significantly this year."
Furthermore, according to Passmore there is a definite correlation between how a consumer is feeling and the products they will choose at that time.
She says: "We've identified trends in terms of why consumers buy which sweet bakery products. For escapism, for example, consumers opt for more indulgent and premium products - very much a treat to temporarily escape the pressure of life. Consumers also choose more traditional, old favourite products when feeling nostalgic."
New innovations, she adds, have helped increase the number of occasions throughout the day consumers can enjoy them. "Thanks to the popularity of the cup cake in particular, there's been a definite rise in people using sweet bakery treats to celebrate varying occasions or events - cake isn't just confined to birthdays anymore."
Cupcakes are definitely still on-trend, according to Sue Gwilliam, new product development manager at Wrights Food Group, suppliers of both sweet and savoury items to a number of premium High Street restaurant brands in addition to other foodservice operators.
However, she adds: "Muffins, cake slices and flapjack are the most popular in the sweet lines and we have had a growing interest in whoopie pies and cake pops.
"We're also seeing a growing number of pubs offering cakes, slices and muffins to sell with coffee as a mid-morning or afternoon snack, and hotels can add ambient snacks to the bedrooms' mini bars."
Creating a "want to buy" mentality for consumers is essential for foodservice operators, advises Cheryll Snowden, food service controller for Dr Oetker whose Healthier Option was the first bakery range to remove all hydrogenated fats.
"New meal occasions, which have derived from the consumers demand for all day snacking, is a fantastic revenue stream," she says.
One particular trend that has emerged as an extremely profitable solution for caterers in recent years is the coffee-break, when customers are looking for that caffeine jolt to get them through the rest of the working day. "Sweet bakery goods, like cakes and muffins, can sit perfectly as a cross-seller with a hot latte, or a cup of tea," Snowden adds.
"There's certainly scope for this type of sale to not be limited to coffee shops alone and would be a great afternoon addition as a snack option in any pub, restaurant, or café. Breakfast and business meetings in general are other occasions where bakery goods are eaten."
Breakfast remains a traditional occasion for consumption of bakery goods and Kate Raison, marketing director at Lantmännen Unibake UK, the parent company of bakery specialists Bakehouse, says that despite health considerations having increased in importance in the last 15 years, when it comes to bakery goods indulgent sweet products continue to show consistent growth.
She adds: "Classic breakfast products such as the all-butter croissant, pain au chocolat and pain au raisin, baked off as demand requires, make ideal staples for "breakfast bags" for hotel guests on the move or as part of a tempting patisserie basket at the hotel breakfast buffet or early opening coffee shop or pub.
"Throughout the day Danish pastries continue as a popular snacking choice but lighter fruit fillings and new shapes allow caterers to update their menus and appeal to younger consumers."
As for enticing customers to indulge, Smythe at Delice de France has a few tips. He says: "Clear signage and interesting product descriptions will help to engage customers. Outlets should couple this with simple pricing and link promotions which help to encourage people in, such as a 'coffee and a muffin' or 'tea and cake' offer to deliver value for money and simplicity for the customer."
At contract caterers 7 Day Catering, where bakery goods are made in-house, executive chef Chris Ince has developed a Homebake brochure featuring recipes for a range of hand-made cakes. However, for those without the resources to bake from scratch he offers some advice on what to look for when choosing ready-made items.
As with scones, they should not be too big. Like a good Victorian sandwich, the sponge should be rich and light, with the icing being in balance with the cake rather than overpowering it.
When it comes to bakery goods there is often one element that is overlooked by caterers. "Consumers who have special dietary requirements can find eating out a real challenge," says Dr. Oetker foodservice controller Cheryll Snowden.
"The latest research highlights that one in 100 people have coeliac disease. Consumers have greater access to information about the key foods they should be eating to stay healthy and manage intolerances. We have added a gluten-free sponge and cupcake mix to our range of baking mixes to help food service operators cater for coeliacs, vegetarians and those with wheat intolerances."
Martin Ward, brand manager for Country Range which offers a selection of hand-made cakes among its frozen lines, has identified several occasions where miniature versions of popular sweet treats can be served and the company has recently launched a mini cake assortment including chocolate brownies, carrot cakes, Black Forest muffins and fruit scones. "Mini cakes provide a wonderful selection of bite size treats suitable for anything from coffee breaks at business meetings to the perfect afternoon tea accompaniment," he says.
These are definitely not sponge cakes with a mushroom top - and shouldn't look as if they are. The texture of a good muffin should be light and short, achieved by not over beating the mixture.
The difference between a great brownie and a second rate chocolate cake is all down to the amount of time it spends in the oven. You're looking for a slightly risen brownie that is cooked just enough to set when cooled, yet slightly firmer on the top where it's risen and formed a crust. It should never look like a cake, but be dark, dense and just set.
You should be looking for a soft baked cookie, lightly golden brown and no more, with soft crumbs when eaten. In my opinion, there should be no "snap".
This is all about the quality of the puff pastry. Good Danish pastries and croissants should be made with all butter puff pastry, which gives a lovely rich taste to the product that cheaper examples simply don't have. Texture is also crucial; a bad Danish will disintegrate into a pile of crumbs when bitten, whilst a good Danish will retain a little density in the pastry and not be too flaky.
Less is certainly more with flapjacks. I don't believe in topping or icing them - they should be left alone allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves. They should be lightly golden and chewy and not much more than 1cm thick to ensure they are cooked through. You should also ensure that they are soft and have a light toffee flavour.
There are so many different versions of a great chocolate cake - some have oil in the mix, some treacle, some even mashed potato. Whatever the recipe, the cake should be moist and rich.
This classic cake should have the rich taste of the butter and eggs in the mix and be really light to eat. It should not be dense or heavy in any way.
Always look out for the classic 'smile' in a scone (cracks in the sides). I prefer them to be on the small side, as when too large, they lose something of that lovely taste and texture, together with shape and form.
A good fruit cake is rich and dense with an even dispersal of fruit.
DAWN FOODS TOP UK SIGNATURE TREATS
1 Scone with cream and jam
2 Victoria sponge
4 Chocolate brownie
5 Fruit cake; iced bun
Country Range Foods
0845 519 6181
01386 760 843
Delice de France
0844 499 3311
Dr Oetker Foodservice
0844 375 4180
020 7420 3574
Lantmännen Unibake UK
7 Day Catering
01827 259 600
Wrights Food Group
01270 504 300