Pancakes mean Spring is coming

An excuse for a delicious treat in darkest February, Pancake Day is a great opportunity for retailers to please their clientele as the tempo of special occasions picks up and days grow longer

Homemade crepes served with sugar and lemon

Last year it was the first day of March, but this year Pancake Day is a little sooner, on 21 February, because of the earlier date for Easter. The interim period is called Lent and commemorates the series of events leading up to the first Easter (and also the earlier quarantine, literally 40 days, that the Bible states Jesus spent alone in the wilderness prior to commencing his ministry). Lent remembers the events leading up to the crucifixion – and also the fast that Jesus embarked on for his desert isolation – and cooking pancakes traditionally using up all the fats and flour left in the kitchen. Then it’s bread and water until Easter dinner – or at least that is how it used to be.

While not representing a huge spike in sales in the way that Easter boosts chocolate, for example, Pancake Day is still a very useful occasion for retailers to draw in footfall – especially distressed sales as parents rush around to gather ingredients at the last minute before post-school suppers.

“Pancake Day is the highest indexing event of the year (153) for the baking sector and sales spikes are often seen in the week before and maintained throughout the week of the event itself,” says Jen Brown, Head of Marketing for Cake at Dr. Oetker Baking

She adds that when it comes to which key products perform best over the Pancake Day occasion, a popular seller is the base ingredient, Baking Powder, along with a variety of flavourings, with the top choice being Madagascan Vanilla.

“Confectionery products such as chocolate chips and chocolate chunks are also popular and we also see other types of decorations over indexing more highly, particularly sprinkles. Dr. Oetker has a range of colourful and exciting sprinkles including Unicorn Confetti, Rainbow Magic, Chocolatey Caramel Crunch, Bright & Bold Sprinkles and a Chocolatey Mix.

The confectioner Hancocks has unveiled an extensive range of toppings, spreads and sweets ahead of Pancake Day that it would be well worth stocking up on, including sweet toppings, spreads and syrups from customers’ favourite brands such as Kit Kat, Lotus Biscoff, Hershey’s and Bonds.


“Pancake Day is a great opportunity for retailers to drive sales during the quieter time between Valentine’s and Mother’s Day,” said Kathryn Hague, head of marketing at Hancocks.

“The key products we recommend stocking are a variety of toppings, spreads and syrups that will undoubtedly be popular in the weeks leading to Pancake Day.”

Brown advises that shoppers often use in-store displays for reminders and inspiration, meaning that in-store feature space has the potential to drive uplifts of over +100%. “The best way to drive sales for Pancake Day is to use this feature space to inspire shoppers, including solutions for both from scratch bakers and convenience bakers with both base ingredients and ready-made mixes. Other key products to focus on are those that help consumers to decorate their pancakes,” she says

The Hancocks range includes sweet toppings, spreads and syrups from customers’ favourite brands like Kit Kat, Lotus Biscoff, Hershey’s and Bonds.

The Lotus caramelised biscuit flavour goes perfectly well with pancakes and is a favourite filling for many customers, while Lotus Biscoff Crumbs 750g are crushed Lotus biscuits which can be spread over pancakes for a delicious garnish.

Lotus Biscoff Spread is a very popular product in the run up to Pancake Day, adds Hague. The Biscoff Spread is available in crunchy and smooth versions for a RRP of £3.79.

Another must stock from the brand is the 1kg Lotus Biscoff Topping Sauce RRP £8.39.

Chocolate lovers can satisfy their cravings with Hershey’s Chocolate Flavour Syrup 680g RRP £3.49. Drizzling the syrup on pancakes makes a mouth-wateringly delicious combination.

Customers can add a fun touch to their pancakes by using the Kit Kat Professional Mix-In 400g RRP £5.05. They’re KitKat flavoured crispy wafer and milk chocolate pieces that can be mixed into the batter or used as toppings.

Bonds Baking Topping Kit 210g RRP £3.00 is a perfect mix of a variety of toppings. Sweet-toothed customers can get creative and jazz up their pancakes with mini marshmallows, Dolly Mixture, Unicones and Snowies. Because of its attractive and colourful packaging, the kit is also a perfect gift option for Pancake Day.

Ready, steady, stack! 

Pancake day is not just for afternoon tea or supper. Although weekday breakfasts can be too hurried to make pancakes from scratch, the perfect solution is at hand because Rustlers, synonymous with their convenient chilled ready meal offering, provides a chilled single serve option similar to the well-established variants in QSR.  

The multiple award-winning Rustlers All Day Breakfast Pancake Stack has quickly become one of the fastest growing products in the brands’ range, already worth £1.3m since launching in April last year. 

“Ideal for shoppers seeking a hassle-free alternative to scratch cooking and batter mixes, the All Day Breakfast Pancake Stack (case size 4) features three buttermilk pancakes, served with a sachet of maple syrup style sauce,” says Elaine Rothballer, Head of marketing consumer brands at Kepak. 

To sell more on Pancake Day, it’s essential to be aware of the mealtime possibilities and the many accessories, toppings and fruits that can be sold alongside the basic ingredients. 

Jen Brown adds: “The best way to convert advertising into sales is to offer clear, simple price messaging and ensure there is a strong association for families. Another key trend to tap into is ‘solution-based’ content which includes equipment that can be used to drive performance.” 

That doesn’t mean you have to sell fry-pans, but helpful squeezy bottles of syrups, and handy containers of sprinkles can be quick sellers. 

Stack of baked american pancakes or fritters with blueberries and honey syrup on rustic black table. Delicious dessert for breakfast.

Retailers with digital marketing platforms might also consider creating a mini “event” to showcase Pancake Day products and bundle solutions to their shoppers and drive up basket spend.  

Be sure you have enough flour on the shelf and be sure to have plenty of eggs around – we get through a staggering 52 million of them on Pancake Day, 22 million more than on a regular day. You should also consider a pre-mixed pancake mix for hassled parents. 

These are almost guaranteed sales: Brits on average consume two pancakes per person on Pancake Day, meaning that the country will consume 117 million pancakes on February 21! 

Flipping history 

Shrove Tuesday originates from the Old English word ‘shrive’, which means to receive absolution after confession (admitting all your wrongdoings and bad thoughts) to a priest. Once he forgives you and orders you to say your “Hail Mary’s”, you are said to be “shriven”. 

Credit: Christine Kohler

In the days before Henry VIII split from the Pope, these islands were Catholic and everybody was supposed to go to confession before Lent started – a bell would be rung to call them to church: the “Pancake Bell” is still rung today in some places. That started a hurry to church … and pancake races! 

The most famous race that still takes place is the one at Olney in Buckinghamshire. According to tradition, in 1445 a local woman heard the shriving bell while still flipping pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, clutching her frying pan. Competitors today must be local housewives and wear an apron and a hat or headscarf as they sprint along. 

So, then, what was Lent? It was the period of forty days before Easter (or to be accurate, before Palm Sunday, the week before Easter Sunday), commemorating the time Jesus spent alone in the desert (his quarantine – “quarante” being French for “forty”), purifying his intentions before starting his career as Messiah (leading to his trial, crucifixion and resurrection –  all commemorated during Easter week). 

The date of Pancake Day changes every year because it depends on when Easter falls – which in turn shifts each year thanks to the changing spring equinox (the point when the Sun is exactly above the equator and day and night are equal in length). Easter is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon that follows the spring equinox, and Shrove Tuesday always 47 days before that. 

So, logically, pancakes of course! The explanation is that, like Jesus in the Judean Wilderness, you were supposed to go without food for 40 days – not literally like him, but people were supposed to abstain from the good stuff – dairy, fats, and meats (which were either eaten up or salted and hung the day before, on “Collop Monday” – a collop being a thin slice of meat) – until the end of Lent. So it became an opportunity to finish off all soon-to-be forbidden ingredients before the deadline – the following day, Ash Wednesday. 

Very, very tasty 

Pancake Day is celebrated all over the world, especially in Catholic countries (sweet pa̡czki are traditional in Poland) or in in English-speaking ones such as the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada. In France, the USA and other countries, it is called “Mardi Gras” – in New Orleans the pancake is called “King Cake” and is eaten on “Fat Tuesday”. 

The pancake has been around for a long time and shows up in recipes dating as far back as 1439. According to a book from 1619, people were flipping them back then as well: “And every man and maide doe take their turne, And tosse their Pancakes up for feare they burne.” (from Pasquil’s Palin).  

Illustration from 19th century.

It is also theorised that Christianity hijacked Pancake Day from a more ancient pagan festival to welcome the arrival of spring. Circular, hot pancakes supposedly represented the sun, providing those who ate them with that star’s power and strength. It can be argued that the ingredients for pancakes do actually symbolise certain essential elements of life: eggs for Creation (God and protein to create life ), flour for the “Staff of life” (sustenance – carbs), salt for Wholesomeness (seasoning) and milk for Purity (the mother). 

The traditional English pancake (as opposed to the smaller, thicker one served up in US diners) is very thin and is served immediately. Golden syrup or lemon juice and sugar are the usual toppings, but chocolate spread, cream or crème fraiche, jams and preserves, fruits and berries, crunchy honeycomb, sprinkles – you name it – are increasingly being tried as the pancake becomes a new cause célèbre.