People eat with their eyes, and social media outlets such as Instagram are feeding that frenzy more than ever. Today’s consumers want cakes that not only emulate the masterpieces they once saw on television but that also are “Insta-worthy” to snap a photo for social media.

Once upon a time, the concept of sharing was about desserts that could be portioned out for groups to enjoy —together. But more recently, “sharing” refers to consumers posting images of food that’s meant for one … and intended to create a sense of “FOMO,” or fear of missing out, among their social network connections.

Dawn calls this the “#FoodieExpressions” trend.

“This is all about the experience and being able to share what we’re doing,” said Jennifer LaPaugh, senior director, global market research and insights, Dawn Foods. “You see more and more attention-grabbing cakes around social media, and they all have these Insta-worthy creations.”

Mike Docherty, Brill’s vice-president, marketing, North America, noted that with offerings that are worth social shares, the in-store bakery becomes an attraction for younger, social-media-savvy shoppers.

“Unique visuals and new eating experiences generate excitement in the category and allow retailers to offer something new for millennials when traditional cake designs might be seen as less interesting,” he said.

Over-the-top cakes such as Brill’s donut cake or Dawn’s extreme birthday cake are just the types of treats that consumers are looking to share, literally and digitally.

When cakes go viral, it’s a grass-roots form of marketing.

“Younger consumerrelated readings can be an asset as they are driven to share buzzworthy dessert experiences via social media and word-of-mouth. Retailers can keep up with these trends by offering sliced decorated cakes and creating other visually appealing desserts,” Mr. Docherty said.

To create this kind of experience, some commercial bakeries offer retailers easy icing solutions to go with the finished product. For instance, Dawn’s Exceptional Buttercream Style icing is a higher-quality product to use with the bakery’s upscale dessert and occasion cakes.

“The way a cake looks is just as important as the product itself,” Ms. LaPaugh said. “It’s all about someone wanting to buy it, take a picture, share it with their friends and post it on social media.”

Brill also offers icing options to accompany its finished product. Pre-filled decorating bags help in-store operators easily create custom looks on their cakes while also addressing a shortage of skilled labor.

For Dawn, it’s more than just the icing on the cake. The company also offers tips and tools to provide inspiration for in-store bakeries to finish off cakes that are as photogenic as they are tasty. Dawn supplies its customers with recipe cards full of ideas for creating cakes that come to life in the bakery case.

What’s on the inside matters, too

While social media puts a heavy emphasis on appearance, taste remains a huge driver, as well. After all, people want to have their cake and eat it, too. Flavor mashups are nothing new, but many cake producers are taking them to new heights by combining flavors that use cake as a new way to recall old experiences.

“Flavor fusions like cookies and crème, s’mores and toffee are growing because they let the consumer experience a tried-and-true flavor in a new format,” Mr. Docherty said.

Instore cake designs

Not one for icings or big decorations, cheesecake is a product that defines inner beauty. Eli’s Cheesecake Co., Chicago, has tapped into some consumer trends that might otherwise deter shoppers from the in-store cake case with products such as Vegan Belgian Chocolate Cheesecake and gluten-free Double Marshmallow Crispy Bar.

However, Eli’s also offers more in the case than just cheesecake with decadent items, including Chocolate Lava Cake and Gooey Butter Cake. For all its product offerings, Eli’s works with customers to create a custom program based on the needs of their shoppers.

“We work with the in-store bakery to create a program with products that work for both their bakery team and consumers,” Debbie Littmann Marchok, Eli’s vice-president of marketing, told Andy Nelson, managing editor, InStore magazine, a Sosland Publishing Company publication. “We are continually introducing new products and refreshing product selection to meet the needs of consumers.”

Times are changing, and today’s outlets, from television to Instagram, are causing consumers’ perceptions of desserts to change with them. From the classics to the extreme, modern cake products provide opportunity for all.