Why only Christmas? Corporate orders & demand in metros spur customized cakes business
Christmas may be the traditional time for cakes but a growing number of Indians are ordering specialized ones round the year.
"We would start preparations more than a month in advance. We'd buy the dry fruits from Chandni Chowk, cut, clean and then soak them in rum. Later, we took these along with other ingredients to a bakery at Paharganj, where the cakes were baked for us, according to our instructions," she says.
In the past Micah and her family members had to spend hours at the bakery to ensure the cakes were baked according to their orders; for his part, the baker faced a huge rush during the season. However, for the first time this year, Micah has pre-ordered all her cakes with a baker over phone, which he will deliver well before Xmas Eve.
"My mother and grandmother have all made baked their own cakes and this is the first time that I'm ordering cakes from outside," says Micah who takes comfort from the fact that "the baker has followed our traditional family recipe".
ALL YOU NEED IS AN OCCASION
Christmas and cakes may be synonymous but the trend of ‘outsourcing' the gateau rather than painstakingly baking it at home extends well beyond the Yuletide season; in fact, Indian consumers are finding occasions round the year - from graduation to a promotion - for ordering cakes, which are customized to boot to suit the occasion.
Pavani Kaur, who graduated with a BBA degree from Amity Business School in Noida three years back, saw a sweet spot in customized cakes and set up her own outfit Firefly, instead of joining her father's travel agency. Having started with a small investment of just Rs 20,000 to buy a few specialized tools, today in the busy season she is on an average customizing five cakes a day. "I have tied up with my sister who runs a catering business and am now fully focused on the specialized decorations at my studio in Defence Colony," says Kaur, adding that her customers range from students and entrepreneurs to doctors and lawyers.
"From colour palettes to the kind of sugar flowers, people of Delhi are getting creative with their orders. Brides who come to order wedding cakes, in particular, are so well prepared with colour swatches and invite patterns that it's a pleasure sitting with them for cake tastings and sketching out designs for their big day," adds Kaur.
And even though Christmas is still the peak season for her, customized cakes, she feels, have become popular with young professionals and corporate executives and are no longer restricted to children's birthday parties. "With so many people looking for novelty cakes, bakers are turning from butter cream and fresh cream to fondant and sugar paste.
While customers want their cakes to taste delicious, they also want something beautiful on their table. Most of my customers are looking for cakes that not only taste 'Christmassy' but look special as well. I'm being called for cakes with sugar Christmas trees on top, bell-shaped cookies and candy cane-flavoured frosting," adds Kaur who charges between Rs 2,200 and Rs 3,500 per kg, depending on the degree of customization.
Prachi Dhabal Deb, a financial analyst in Pune, gave up her job to set up a specialized cake-baking business Cake Decor, when she was expecting a baby.
"My initial investment was small and I have recovered it and much more in less than a year. The demand for customized cakes is going up with clients ordering cakes for almost any occasion, from weddings to bachelorette parties; I have also diversified into organizing workshops for baking and decorating lessons," says Deb. Her client list extends from students to IT executives and, during the festive season, she imports specialized decorations from Australia and the US.
Deliciae Patisserie in Mumbai is also a premium cake and pastry shop which was set up by Le Cordon Bleu chef Bunty Mahajan and her son Suchit Mahajan. "While this is the season for plum cakes and other Christmas offerings, our luxury collection of wedding cakes is the highlight at this time of the year. This is also the season when NRIs visit Mumbai, for anniversaries and holidays and there is a great demand for our customized and creative offerings," says Suchit. Deliciae, which has multiple outlets in the Mumbai suburbs, takes pride in its fondant cakes customized to resemble everything from designer bags to Angry Birds and champagne bottles.
Corporates have also started ordering cakes for their CSR activities. "I have corporate clients who order goodie bags filled with traditional festive season cakes to distribute among children from economically challenged families," says Tanu Jain, a PR executive-turned-home baker, who runs a specialized studio kitchen Bakerwee in Delhi.
But it's not just specialized and niche outfits that are having it good; even the mass market for cakes is on an upswing.
"Cakes are one of the most sought after things when it comes to indulging, expressing, celebrating and gifting. Changing lifestyles, increasing exposure to global trends of cake making and changing attitudes to celebrations are the strong drivers influencing consumption of cakes," says Tarun Jain, VP food services at Technopak Advisors. "There is an increasing trend amongst young families in all parts of the country, especially the metros and mini metros, to participate in all major festivals irrespective of their personal religious inclinations," he adds.
The emergence of organized bakery chains in all parts of the country has contributed to the rise in the Christmas cakes market. While earlier, star hotels and a handful of renowned local bakeries used to steer the Christmas business, one now sees much larger participation both from consumers as well as retailers. There is a pick-up also in transactions on e-tailing platforms, although numbers are difficult to come by.
Cakes are also more than a metro phenomenon. Qusai Khorakiwala, director of Monginis, a Mumbai-headquartered cakes chain, says even small towns are "accepting the product". Monginis runs 16 factories, has 700 cake shops and over 1,000 distributors across India with plans for 1,200 outlets by end-2014.
Similarly, Elite Foods, a Thrissur-based food major also sees huge opportunities in the business of cakes. This season, Elite has added two new speciality cakes - black forest and ginger-n-honey - for the festive season across India. The company is also carrying out a cake on wheels promotional activity across Kerala throughout December.
Kolkata's iconic confectionery outlet Flurys too sees a big opportunity and has recently opened two new outlets in Navi Mumbai. Started way back in the 1920s, the chain is now owned by the Apeejay Surrendra Group. "We plan to have new outlets across the country in a tie-up with The Park Hotels, which is also owned by the same group," says Vikas Kumar, executive chef at Flurys Kolkata. "Our brand has a legacy of over 90 years and we hope to cash in on our popular products this Xmas season," he adds.