While the softball-sized cupcakes craze hit its peak in the 2000s and has since dwindled, the Austin, Texas-based cupcake bakery Sprinkles is still going strong, and just opened its first franchised location in Dec. 2022 in Utah, with plans to grow from 23 bakeries and 50 iconic pink cupcake ATMS to more than 100 U.S. franchise locations and 100 international locations over the next three years. The first international franchised location is set to open in Asia this year.
But after more than 17 years in the business, why is now a good time for Sprinkles to begin the franchising journey?
“We wanted to make sure before we franchised that we had the best training, the best systems, and everything in place to make our franchisees as successful as they could be,” Sprinkles president and CEO Dan Mesches told Nation’s Restaurant News. “[…] We’re nationwide but spread out, so there’s a lot of whitespace for new Sprinkles locations. So there's a lot of space for folks in to, to have a number of sprinkles locations across the country. Our first goal is 100 franchisees and then we could always add more.”
With a franchising strategy underway, Sprinkles is also trying to branch out through other avenues, through CPG and new non-cupcake products like the newly released truffles, based on their most popular cupcake flavors.
“We want to stay concentrated as a bakery; we don't want to have a million products,” Mesches said. “But we’ve grown since or cupcakes, like we do a great naked cake and we launched our truffles and 'pupcakes' for our furry friends. We of course also have our cake mixes, and we really want to concentrate on bringing new flavors to these product lines.”
The new cupcake truffles, featuring flavors like red velvet, represent a big step forward for the brand. Unlike cupcakes, which really need to be eaten fresh within a day or two, the truffles — encased in a white chocolate version of the Sprinkles frosting — can be more easily gifted because they have a longer shelf life. It’s all a part of the bakery chain’s strategy to not only grow geographically, but also to add to their direct-to-consumer line, with truffles, cupcake and cake mixes available for purchase.
Like other dessert brands, including Krispy Kreme, Sprinkles is trying to expand its reach through online purchases, catering, and supermarket doors.
“Right now, our concentration has been on developing the CPG line and selling it direct-to-consumer,” Mesches said. “There will be upcoming larger partnerships we can announce. We now ship frozen or fresh frosting DTC, and we’re working on a shelf-stable brand that we will put on supermarket shelves too.”
One of the most crucial aspects of Sprinkles' continued evolution is perfecting off-premises ordering, especially in the post-pandemic consumer climate. Although Sprinkles has had an app for more than five years, you were not originally able to order off of it and it was just a static way to check your loyalty points.
“Now, if you wanted to take a picture of your friend's face and put it on a cupcake in a day, you could do that very simply on our app,” Mesches said. “ […] Now, most of our orders come in through our app or through the website as a pre order. You can just pick them up or you can come in and order through a kiosk. The kiosks are integrated into the counter, and we made them streamlined and beautiful, and you can see all of our LTO flavors.”
Helping to create new flavors of sweet treats continues to be one of the best parts of the job, Mesches said. Currently, they’re advertising a strawberry jam-filled Pop Tart flavor with a mini-Pop Tart on top of the cupcake, as well as a Biscoff cookie butter-filled cupcake.
“Innovation is everything for us,” he added.
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