Sugar Dot Surveys Recap: Royal Icing Ingredient Brand Loyalty

 

Thank you all for participating in the most recent questionnaire in my Sugar Dot Surveys series. In this survey, I asked you questions about the powdered sugar and meringue powder that you use for royal icing and how loyal you are to brands of those ingredients.

I teach cookie decorating and business classes. I share my knowledge with students, but always let them know that my way is just ONE way to do things. I encourage my students to join sites like Cookie Connection and groups on social media, so that they can get many opinions and learn a variety of methods to do what we do. There’s an incredible amount to learn from our community.

Let's see what you had to say about royal icing ingredients and brands!

At the time this post was written, 137 of you had responded to the survey. Respondents are rather evenly split between cookie hobbyists (49%) and professionals (51%), and, based on your stated brand use, it looks like about 7% of respondents live outside the United States (US).

katie leep
Aldi (Discount Grocery) Brand Powdered Sugar; Photo by Katie Leep of Twice As Sweet Bakery

You use many brands of powdered sugar with Domino being the most popular (31%), followed by C&H (22%), and then Imperial coming in as a very distant third (7%). [EDITOR'S NOTE: In the US, Domino Foods (part of ASR Group, which is the world's largest cane sugar refiner) markets both C&H and Domino brands of icing sugar. C&H is refined in California, and Domino is refined on the east coast, largely to the same specifications. In other words, don't be fooled by the different names - Domino and C&H are basically the same sugar; they are just sold in different parts of the US under different names. For all you ever wanted to know about powdered sugar and how it's made, check out our great 2016 Toolbox Talk article on that subject. ~JMU]

Interestingly, a large number of you buy (typically less expensive) private-label grocery store or warehouse store brands (12% and 25%, respectively, or a combined 37%), which suggests some price sensitivity when purchasing powdered sugar. Your remarks regarding brand loyalty also suggest that price is a key deciding factor for many. Only 27% of you are brand-loyal, never deviating from your tried-and-true brand. Another 38% have favorite brands, but will switch if necessary (due to price or availability, presumably), and 17% buy solely based on price.

If you have a preferred brand, we asked you to expand on the reason(s) you like that brand. What is it about your brand that has you choosing it over others? Here are the top reasons you cited, listed from most to least frequently mentioned:

  • no need to sift it/no lumps/fine texture (19%)
  • best price (18%)
  • readily available/convenient (15%)
  • reliable/produces consistent results (11%)
  • can be purchased in bulk (7%)
  • good/best taste (6%)
  • well-known or recognized name brand (4%)
  • is pure cane sugar/not beet sugar (4%)

Conversely, we asked if you avoid certain brands or types of powdered sugar, and about 45% of you said you do. The majority of these folks (63%) avoid less expensive store or warehouse brands, followed by 13% who avoid certain name brands, and 11% who avoid anything with beet sugar. Not all of those who avoid certain brands or types said why, but of those who did (n=42), they most often cited the following reasons, again listed from most to least frequently mentioned:

  • hard/lumpy/gritty texture (52%)
  • off-taste (24%)
  • results in poor icing consistency (5%)
  • bad or strange smell (5%)
  • gray color (2%)
  • too expensive (2%)

So, price and convenience are super important in your powdered sugar purchasing decisions, but so is texture. If powdered sugar is gritty or has to be sifted, it's avoided. Of those avoiding store or warehouse brands, nearly everyone cited texture, lump, or grit issues.

Let's move on to meringue powder. Not all of you use it in your royal icing, but the vast majority of you (93%) do. We asked those who use it to indicate their favorite brand(s). Wilton came in number one at 36% largely because of availability and price, followed closely by Genie's Dream at 34%; then CK Products at 25%.

The numbers also say that you are more loyal to your meringue powder brands than to your powdered sugar brands, as 40% have a favorite meringue powder brand and never switch. (Recall, the equivalent figure for powdered sugar was only 27%.) Plus, only 9% buy solely based on price (compared to 17% for powdered sugar). Looks like you're willing to pay for good quality meringue powder too! Interesting! Could this be because meringue powder is more likely to make or break the quality of your icing, or because there are fewer high (or equivalent) quality meringue powders out there (after all, powdered sugar is a pretty ubiquitous commodity)? We didn't ask this question, but we did ask a few others . . .

Julie
Genie's Dream Meringue Powder; Photo by Julie Hauan Domaille of Julie's Cookie Creations

When asked why you like your favorite brand of meringue powder, you gave us the following reasons, listed from most to least often mentioned:

  • readily available/convenient (22%)
  • good/best taste (22%)
  • reliable/produces consistent results (11%)
  • got good recommendation/have never used anything else (11%)
  • best price (9%)
  • smooth consistency/handles well (5%)
  • better smell (4%)
  • blends easily/well (4%)
  • texture/not gritty (3%)

Interestingly, price and texture register as much less important here than with powdered sugar. Taste and availability seem to be paramount, perhaps because there appear to be some significant differences in taste across brands, which we'll come to in a sec. Also, a solid 11% noted that they had relied on others' recommendations when choosing their meringue powder and/or hadn't ever tried another brand, once again underscoring more brand loyalty in this category than with powdered sugar.

When asked if you avoid particular brands of meringue powder, 42% of you said you do, and, of those, the vast majority (72%) avoid one particular brand (which shall remain unnamed). The number one concern that many have about that brand is its off or bad taste/smell. Another (much less mentioned) reason that some avoid other brands is because of clumping or clotting issues.

Lastly, we asked if you have any words of wisdom for us in regards to royal icing ingredients. Here are a few gems . . .

"Ingredients matter! My customers expect quality/good taste. Find something you like and stick with it if possible." ~ Cookies Fantastique

"Meringue [powder] makes a world of difference in the taste of your royal icing. Find what you like and stay with what works!" ~ JP

"Do not use any brand less than 10X ground.* The PS [powdered sugar] in the icing will settle and clump . . . when sitting." ~ Shakenbake [*EDITOR'S NOTE: An X-scale is often used to grade the fineness of powdered sugar, with 10X being relatively fine, though not the finest available. Both Domino and C&H are 10X. For a more in-depth discussion of this scale, again, please see our 2016 Toolbox Talk article. ~JMU]

"If one type doesn't work, try something else!" ~ Terry H.

"I add glycerin to my icing. You get the same characteristics of a true royal icing but a slightly softer bite." ~ Guest

"Stick with what you are most comfortable with and stock up when there are sales." ~ Guest

"You get what you pay for in terms of taste and quality of your cookie. Go cheap and your cookies reflect it." ~ Guest

You all are some smart cookies! Thank you for allowing us to learn from YOU.

My advice to you is to experiment to find what works for you; then stick with it. There are many factors that dictate how your icing will perform - seasons, weather, location, mixer, water temperature, etc. What works perfectly for someone else might not work for you. Hopefully the information and tips here will point you in the direction of the perfect royal icing.

This survey covered more than I can recap here, so if you took it, you can go back at any time to see the results for each question. If you haven't yet taken it, please do so by clicking on the pink link above! The survey will be open and capturing new responses in perpetuity! Once you take it, all of the results will reveal in the same place!

Also, please stay tuned for my next survey!

Until next time,
Dotty Raleigh
Sugar Dot Cookies

Dotty Raleigh is the owner of Sugar Dot Cookies, which began in 2013 with custom cookie orders, and has since grown to include decorating classes and cookie parties. In 2018, Dotty began teaching a series of online classes called Cookies as Business and providing business e-books, which cover everything from finding the optimum shop location and workflow management to pricing and packaging cookies. Dotty loves sharing her years of experience and encouraging those just getting started in their own cookie businesses. Please visit Dotty's Cookie Connection member profile and Facebook and Instagram pages.

Photo credit: Dotty Raleigh

Note: Sugar Dot Surveys is a bimonthly Cookie Connection survey/blog feature designed to foster experience-sharing and identify best business and decorating practices. Dotty starts by posting a survey every other month about a specific cookie practice, tool, or technique, and concludes with a recap of responses aimed at helping everyone learn and grow. This article expresses the views of the author, and not necessarily those of this site, its owners, its administrators, or its employees. To read all of Dotty's past Sugar Dot Surveys recaps, click here. And to see all of her surveys, click here.

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