Bread winners, all

Gitanjali Diwakar | Updated on December 21, 2018 Published on December 21, 2018

It’s done: Jeny John, who started a home-based bakery after quitting her bank job to care for her newborn daughter, sells customised products such as whole-wheat and gluten-free cakes   -  IMAGE COURTESY: JENYS CAKE CORNER


Kerala’s home bakers are having their cake and eating it too

There’s just a kitchen, or even the living room, and a hot oven in a corner that’s spreading an irresistible aroma. It’s a snug domestic scene in many homes in Kerala, known for its baked goodies. But, increasingly, people are also making a tidy packet by doing precisely that — baking at home.

Commercial outlets have been facing competition from home bakers in a state that famously has bakeries in nearly every neighbourhood, and has been producing plum cakes from the 1800s. Kochi alone reputedly boasts more than 100 home bakers — people who bake and sell from home.

The commercial bakeries have always done roaring business, and some of the famous names such as Anne’s and Bread World in Kochi and Kottayam notch up sales of about ₹60 lakh a month. Their cakes, especially the plum cakes popular during Christmas, travel overseas to meet a robust demand from the expat Keralite community.

Increasingly, however, many people are turning away from the commercial bakeries to favour niche, home-based enterprises for their quota of cakes, pastries, biscuits, quiches and patties.

The reasons range from concern over hygiene and the quality of ingredients to a rising demand for customised products that are organic, egg-free or gluten-free — options that not many commercial outlets offer.

Varsha Narayanan, a Kochi-based chartered accountant, buys customised cakes from her home-baker friend as she is assured of the quality and taste, while advertising professional Harishankar Menon loves to buy from home bakers because their cakes taste... well... just like home-made ones.

Many of these home bakers were amateur cooks, who were inspired to set up shop after their yummy creations had their family and friends asking for more. Some of them learnt to bake by watching YouTube videos, while some others learnt from their mothers.



“I initially baked for friends and family. Soon, word spread and baking became my profession,” says Kochi-based Jeny John, who decided to try her hand at baking after she took a break from her banking job following the birth of her daughter eight years ago. Her venture, Jenys Cake Corner, specialises in a range of healthy options such as whole-wheat, gluten-free and vegan cakes.

Her friend Jaya Lakshmi Deepak has a similar story to share. A postgraduate in law, she found she was spending more time baking than preparing for her UGC exams. Her business in Kochi, called Sugarcraft, is now over five years old. Her specialities include what is known as a ‘3D cake’, which is shaped to resemble daily objects, people, fantasy figures and so on. Her ‘rum cake in a jar’ is a big hit during Christmas.

“I have clients buying from me for over six years. They tell their friends about my products, besides offering them a bite, thus assuring me of more customers. In a way, they are the ones marketing my products,” says Deepak.

Besides word of mouth, today’s home bakers have a potent ally in social media, especially a visual-rich medium such as Instagram, which serves as a perfect platform for their delectably eye-catching creations.

“I manage an Instagram page. Nearly 80 per cent of my orders come from those who follow my page closely. It truly works,” insists Kottayam resident Jessica George, the owner of Cloud 9 Bakery.

Having baked since she was 11, George decided to turn professional in her final year of college. “I wanted to take the path less-travelled and have no regrets,” says the 23-year-old, who did a course in baking and became a certified pastry chef to further her dream career. George is known for her ganaches — cake icing or filling made of chocolate and cream.

She recalls the time early in her business when she offered massive discounts to lure customers. “I did not mind entirely as I wanted to be recognised,” she says.

Today, home-baked products are so much in demand that people like her sell at rates higher than those of commercial bakeries, thanks to customisations or the use of special ingredients. For instance, some home bakers use butter cream, which brings in better results than whipped cream or its substitutes. Some use imported cocoa powder, sugar paste and other ingredients, and this can step up the cost of making.

Apart from the comfort of working from home at their own pace, the bakers enjoy the advantage of having few overhead costs such as rentals and staff that a commercial venture entails. So, apart from initial investment on equipment such as a blender, beater and an oven, they have few recurring expenses other than the cost of ingredients. John says her monthly cost for ingredients is ₹5,000-7,000. On an average, a home baker can earn anywhere from ₹20,000 to ₹30,000 a month, and a lot more during the wedding season and Christmas.

On the flip side, however, the home-based ventures cannot scale up beyond a point, as many of them typically juggle domestic responsibilities with their business ones. Deepak, for instance, does not accept orders beyond 60 cakes during Christmas, despite having a gas oven imported from Malaysia that can bake up to 7 kg a day. Also, the demands of the venture tend to keep them tied to the home.

Pooja Haridas, a 24-year-old home baker who made a name for herself in Kochi within just six months of operations, had to wind it up to move to Pune, following her mother’s job transfer. But she hasn’t lost heart yet, hoping to take the aroma of Kerala’s cakes to her new home in the land of shrikhand and poha.

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Published on December 21, 2018
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