/ Food & Drink

Do novelties get the better of us?

Colin the Caterpillar cake

From 23 February, wedding-planning fans of M&S’s Colin the Caterpillar cake will be able to buy Colin and his wife, Connie, for their big day. But at £100 for the pair, is it madness to pay a premium for such novelties?

As a child of the 1990s, Colin the Caterpillar was the staple cake for nearly every children’s birthday party I attended.

Indeed, the M&S chocolate sponge roll, filled with buttercream and covered in milk chocolate with its white-chocolate face and feet does hold a certain nostalgia factor for me, remembering how the birthday boy or girl always got first dibs on the face.

Although I’ve been known to pick up a £7.50 Colin for a friend’s twenty-something birthday, I’m not sure I’d be willing to shell out £50 for him and another £50 for his missus, even if they are ten times the size of the original and, combined, can feed up to 80 people.

Colin the Caterpillar

Now, I’ll admit that I know little of what’s a reasonable price to pay for a wedding cake.

But I was a little surprised when my Facebook feed was instantly filled by excited brides-to-be claiming that this new novelty cake would be making an appearance at their weddings.

After quizzing one of them, I’ve since discovered that traditional tiered cakes, designed to stuff your guests with after a day of eating and drinking, can come with a fairly high price tag.

And I’ve been reliably informed that that price is dependent on who makes it (a professional baker or a supermarket) and what type of cake it is.

So, it turns out that Colin and Connie would be a budget option, but when you consider you can buy a giant normal Colin for £35, £50 still seems steep just because he’s wearing a chocolate top-hat..

At least, it seems that way to me.

Novelty factor

I had a similar feeling when I visited the Making of Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros Studios.

I grew up reading all about the exploits of the boy wizard at Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, so I naturally wanted to sample the infamous ‘Butterbeer’ halfway through the tour.

An ordinary glass of it wasn’t cheap (a couple of quid, if I remember rightly), but when you bought the special stein to drink it from, it came to something like a tenner.

And from what I could see, this was the default choice for near enough every attendee. Plus, it was so sickly sweet that barely any of them could finish it!

Now you could argue that such novelties make a nice souvenir for your visit or even that the Colin and Connie wedding cake reflects your ‘young-at-heart’ relationship, but to me it just feels that we end up paying a premium for what is a novelty.

Do you think novelties, such as Colin and Connie, get the better of us? Or do you see them as a bit of fun and the price tag shouldn’t matter?


Is that a picture of your 4th birthday cake Lauren?

Are M & S aware that they may be traumatising, or at least confusing, many youngsters by implying that caterpillars mate? Who is this ‘Connie’? Is M&S encouraging child marriage, then? What is happening?

Concerned of Little Puddleton

You could leave one to see if it pupates and emerges as a butterfly bun.

It’s nothing short of larval abuse, I tell you…

There was a time when if you were unable to attend a friend or relative’s wedding they would send you a piece of the cake as a souvenir in a little cardboard box. Does this pleasant custom still occur? It’s a long time since we received any such morsels but then all our friends and relatives are either already married or never will get married.

I think “Connie” is an appropriate name for such a rip-off. Colin looks like he’s made up of two different diameters of Swiss roll under a thin layer of chocolate and a handful of Smarties.

Connie, a pet form of Constance, seems appropriate for a bride. But are we really not in the realms of fantasy here? Perhaps we should have a national poll and see how many would choose Mr and Mrs CakeyMcCakeFace.

Ever since D H Lawrence wrote about Lady Chatterley and her fling with the gamekeeper, the name Constance has been out of favour. Good of M&S to bring it back into circulation, but they missed a trick by not calling the other one Clifford [Connie’s husband].

At one time, mums and would produce personalised cakes to celebrate birthdays and other family events. I don’t see a standard supermarket creation as being very personal.

My favourite Christmas cards are the hand-made cards produced by children and occasionally by adults.

I can report from a visit to M&S today that Connie the Caterpillar was in store as a birthday cake. Cost – £7. Serves – 10. So to serve 40 at a wedding would cost £28, not £100. You could have two Connies and two Colins, and serve them on a plate decorated with cabbage leaves. So I am a little perplexed at the intro.

Having organised weddings I was initially shocked at the price of wedding cakes. But when the family produced them you realise, for a traditional heavy fruit cake in 3 tiers for example, just how much the ingredients cost. Then there is the cost of decorations and the time taken to apply them to make it look good. My eldest daughter decorated the last with a tumbling spray of (her) handmade Arum lilies.

We don’t have to buy novelities. mrs r, then my daughters , often make personalised birthday cakes for the family. A memorable one was a metallic blue Ford Fiesta for one of the boys. One of mine was topped with a bowling green, bowls and players. Lots of fun – a shame to cut though. As wavechange alludes to, it is the thought and care that goes into them that matters most.

There are many stupid and ignorant people in this country and in this world who will fall for any new gimmick whatever it might be and waste their money buying it More money than sense fools

M&S can whistle. Rip-ff Britain…

It is only “rip off” if you allow yourself to be. No one has to buy these. But a Connie slice at 70p a head does not seem like a rip off to me (see my earlier post).

@ldeitz, so this is where the picture came from? Hope this is not product placement.
I’m confused by this Convo. This Giant Colin is £35 for 40 portions – 87.5p a portion. That doesn’t seem bad value to me. So what is the difference between this and a wedding version. And where does the £100 for up to 40 people come from?

I am sure there is a reasonable explanation but is not the innocent caterpillar perhaps being misrepresented?

Whether it represents decent value depends on how small the portions are and whether a sponge filling covered in milk chocolate and a few decorative flourishes is your idea of a nice wedding cake. Connie the Bride and Colin the Groom each weigh in at over 2 kilos and serves 40 guests; the actual combined weight is 4200 g so each portion is therefore 52.5 g at an average price of £1.25. Given the irregular reticulated forms of the caterpillars it will be difficult to cut equal portions and I doubt many will manage to get 40 slices out of each cake so an extra one or two might be a good idea – especially if there are children at the wedding breakfast. Colin has a chocolate buttercream filling and Connie has a strawberry-flavoured buttercream filling. The matrimonial caterpillars are not available for collection until 23 February but can be ordered in advance.

Honestly . . . the things we have to worry about these days!

Thanks for the link wavechange. These each cost £50 and each serve 40 people – the intro could be construed as saying the pair serve 40. Personally I don’t see why you wouldn’t buy the cheaper birthday version and decorate it yourself. Unless you are an expert in sexing confectionery caterpillars you’ll get away with a single Colin, if you only have 40 guests. Then shop online for some pink and blue butterflies to show your transition from the immature state. http://www.cakecraftworld.co.uk/shop/909/7/571/

Some couples may, of course, only want a male caterpillar, others only a female for example so the M&S £50 ones seem to be getting to grips with modern life. Will we soon see a trans-gender caterpillar cake?

I can see that a sponge cake is fine for a birthday or other party but I thought that wedding cakes were normally heavy fruit cakes and the happy couple retained a tier to enjoy later. Maybe I’m just out of date.

Cup cake tiers became a fashion. Just like everything else, people these days are more unrestrained and less willing to abide by “convention”. I prefer a light cake to fruit, but I think one reason for fruit, apart from its exotic and costly heritage, is that the bottom tier was reserved as a christening cake for the first child, and therefore had to last….and last in some cases. These days, as children often precede marriage, that need no longer be a need for many, and a childish caterpillar cake may well be the appropriate choice that not only the guests, but particularly the offspring, can enjoy at the reception.

Thanks for the explanation, Malcolm. Having an arrangement of cup cakes obviously removes the need for someone to undertake the task of cutting neat pieces of fruit cake during the event. Maybe we could hide a few pieces of fruit cake behind the iced sponge cake for the benefit of the old school, much in the same way that we cater for vegetarians.

We were staying at a hotel once when there was a “Wedding Show” on so we had a look around. I would say that conventional practices and accoutrements are not only still going strong but are being embellished to make them even more appealing. There is a certain American-style pretentiousness about the furnishing and decoration of the reception these days but otherwise I think tradition still counts for a lot in attire, customs, and even the catering and cakes. It’s still the mother of the bride’s big day so convention prevails.

I’ve also now amended the copy to reflect this. Thanks.

That’s lovely Lauren. On an issue of such national import, so much controversy could have been avoided. I have tears in my eyes. My one comment would that this would be a rather sterile marriage as caterpillars cannot themselves reproduce. This seems sad. Should M&S not put matters right by producing huge butterfly buns – names now required, apparently. I’d start by suggesting Apollo ( Parnassius apollo) and Cleopatra ( Gonepteryx cleopatra)

@mtrain, well done Melanie. Will the press office be issuing a press release to avoid further public confusion? It would be nice to change the picture. I wonder, given the extraordinary publicity, how many brides’ mums will now be persuaded to buy the creepy caterpillars? M&S shares anyone?

“How does one become a butterfly?” Pooh asked pensively.
“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar” Piglet replied.
“You mean to die?” asked Pooh.
“Yes and no,” he answered, “what looks like you will die, but what’s really you will live on.”

AA Milne.

M&S food for thought?

There was a Winnie the Pooh birthday cake in M&S the other day. It must be quite a traumatic experience for a young child to see their parent amputate and dissect their favourite character before the eyes of themselves and their young friends. Why don’t we have cakes in the image of Adolf Hitler or Attila the Hun?

Other hate figures are available.

Could trigger a nasty dose of dysentery Malcolm!

Couldn’t bear it.

I don’t pay much attention to the adverts that pop up after visiting websites but I’m fed-up with seeing pictures of chocolate-coated caterpillars. Time to clear the cookies.