The Branded Cake Wars

Branded Cake Wars

My love affair with cakes has not always been consistent. There have been times when I got infatuated with them [in my tweens I used to have my birthday every freakin’ month just to have a crack at a cake] and times when I didn’t give a damn about them.

Present time belong to the first category. And it has got more to do with the shrewd marketing of premium cake makers than any sweet tooth yearnings on my part.

So who are the major contenders in this premium cake category?

To be fair, Riding Hood actually created this category in Karachi. There were a few cottage industry-type operations in action before it but none did it on such a large scale as they did. And they are also the ones to have really lost it since last Eid. I mean, who on earth gives 50% discount till eternity? Only a brand hell-bent on reducing its star power by half.

They could have time-constrained it, coming up with a tacky line like ‘A Tale of Two Eids’ and confined it within the period between these two Eids. Or they could have set different discount for different dates. Or 50% discount for just Monday blues.

No Mama. They had to slash their prices by half till the Day of Judgement and spin it off as a discount. Who knows they’ll be selling their half-price cakes on the Day of Reckoning as well.

It’s an awesome strategy for the short-term. See? Even a marketer like me got suckered into it. Long-term, don’t even ask sweetheart.

The discount wars in the branded cake category started off last Eid. Prior to that Riding Hood was selling cakes at a whopping Rs.2,000+ per 2 Ib of spongy delight.

And it was last Eid when my love affair with cakes was rekindled. The temptation of a Ferrero Rocher or a Twix cake was too much not to give in to.

So in spite of being an experienced marketer, I fell right into the consumer trap. So much for marketing acumen.

I enter the Riding Hood Bakery outlet on Badar and it seems like an army of locust has gone through the place. Empty.

I then try the one on Shamsheer in Khadda market. Seems that army has yet to raid this joint.  I feel grateful. But my gratefulness is short-lived.

Pretty much every guy in the shop is intent on buying masses of cake as if they have to feed some starving people somewhere. There’s this pudgy uncle who looks like he can’t afford even a single cake and yet orders a dozen cakes. There’s another who orders 15. I begin to have a nervous breakdown when I hear an order of 20.

I feel stupid. I just don’t get it. Have these guys hit the jackpot? Are they relatives of the Riding Hood bakery owners? Is there a television show contest of who buys the most cakes? Kya ye cake langar mein batt rahey hain? Aur agar langar mein batt rahey hain to mein charyon ki tarah kyun khareed rha hoon?

Where the hell are these cakes going to go?

I feel ashamed of purchasing the solitary cake I had come to buy. The words just won’t come out. The mouth has suddenly gone dry. Reminiscent of a public speaking gig. How can I? Not in the presence of these lords of cake.

Finally, in a meek and just audible voice I proclaim my desire for a single cake. I swear the son of a bitch behind the counter heard me the first time but just to mock me for such a tiny order he asks me to repeat. I show him the index finger instead of opening my mouth. I should have shown him the middle finger.

I grab my solitary cake and get the hell out of that tormenting place.

But to this day I can’t get it out of my mind as to where all those poor cakes went? Is there a ‘burger’ trend of distributing cakes to all your friends and foes on Eid? Or do the SEC As develop such voracious appetites on Eid that they devour a dozen cakes themselves?

Sadly, we’ll never find out.

The next contender we have is our little old Vintage Bakery, the one whose design, in the words of an ad agency’s senior creative manager doesn’t even look vintage. Ouch.

And I’ve got beef against them. Big one. This Eid when I went to take their cakes for a test-drive, they solemnly informed me that they didn’t take credit cards. Whaaaat? Are they still in the Stone Age?

‘But I was just here last month and you accepted the credit card?’, I blurted out.

“Sir, you must have gone to our café in the basement which accepts the cards. The bakery on the ground floor doesn’t.”, the dude behind the counter with a serial-killer haircut informed me.

‘Oh Geez. So the basement takes cards, the ground floor takes cash, and what does the first floor take? Crocodile eggs for barter?’, this response reverberated in my head.

‘At least you could have informed your prospective customers by mentioning it on your communication material that you’re spreading on social media,’ by now I was pleading with him.

‘Sir, all our customers know this for a fact that we haven’t accepted cards ever since we opened up.’ The serial-killer haircut guy told me accusingly as if I should be hanged for the crime of not being their customer.

Resignedly, I emptied my wallet on the counter, coins and all and told him to get all the cakes which fit into that amount. The couple beside me stared at me with the same disdain as the serial killer rep. ‘Ghareeb ka bachcha’, their eyes seemed to say.

I really should be ashamed of myself for not knowing the Ten Commandments of Vintage Empire. Bad, bad boy.

I took the cakes what my meager cash could buy and scurried away as fast as possible.

All the other premium bakeries including Riding Hood accept credit cards.

Next we have the good old Pie in the Sky. They were offering a sizeable 40% but only on Standard Chartered cards.

While Pie in the Sky has been making premium cakes far before Riding Hood burst onto the scene, they weren’t that popular. Riding Hood came along and made the cakes a sexy phenomenon, coming up with such alluring ones as the Ferrero Rocher, the Kit Kat, or even the Tobblerone. All their cakes were priced upwards of Rs.2,000 – a price unheard of in the cake category, at least for 2 Ib cakes. And yet people were buying them in droves.

Which goes on to show there’s a real market for premium cakes. That you can charge an arm and a leg and people would still buy them.

Karachi is a haven for marketers and psychologists to study classic cases of twisted consumer behavior. The cake crush psyche is a perfect example of that.

Yes there used to be a demand and consumption of the traditional mithai on the occasion of Eid. While the cake option had been slowly gaining traction, I guess this year saw the tipping point where the mithai is completely out, at least for the SEC A+ to SEC A- and the cake is in big time.

The fact that upscale branded bakeries with the sole expertise of cakes have cleverly made use of the classic discount strategy has only helped matters.

And the trend is contagious. If a shrew marketer like me [open to debate] can get suckered into buying seven high-end cakes between the two Eids, imagine what the average unsuspecting consumer would have bought. The 10-15 cakes figure finally starts to look realistic in this context.

I’m seriously contemplating coming up with my own brand of cakes.

The Big Bad Wolf Cakery.

No one has targeted Lindt,Guylian, Godiva or even Thorntons as yet. That’s my target. Put a price tag of Rs.6,000 per 2 Lb cake. Slash it by 50%. And Voila! Even at Rs.3,000 I make a killing.

All I need to do is hire a kickass designer. Shouldn’t be a problem. My ad agency can take care of that.

See a few youtube videos of how to bake a cake. And if I don’t want to go to that trouble, I can hire a baker or one of those internet moms found on SWOT Facebook trying to sell one of their cakes. They’ve got great design and baking skills but sadly no marketing acumen.

In short, while we have got the premium cake category joints, there’s still an opportunity wide open in the super-premium category, where you bring in ultra-premium chocolates from abroad not only available in this part of the world, but the people haven’t even heard about them, except for the rich and the elite.

You open that outlet smack in the middle of a Khayaban, promote shamelessly on SWOT, Home Express and other niche channels, spread it on Whatsapp, and in no time people would be lining up to grab no less than a dozen cakes from you as well.

Let the branded cake wars go berserk!


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