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Desserts are a sweet seduction

india Updated: Mar 06, 2010 18:24 IST

Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

When advertising professional Shreya Khanna attended a birthday celebration recently, she was shocked to realise that the slice of cake she had was the first taste of chocolate cake she had had in a year.

“Now, there are so many options from cupcakes to cheesecakes and other treats, that regular cakes are boring,” says Khanna. “These days, when I choose to eat a sweet dish, I look for something unique.”

Khanna’s not the only one to realise that most people are not content to stick with the same old desserts when it comes to indulging their sweet tooth. Increasingly, more and more are looking to try something exotic. And dessert makers are rising to the challenge with new products (cupcakes, macaroons, cinnamon rolls), or new versions of old favourites (photo chocolates, gooey cakes, liqueur lollipops).

DESSERT DEMAND
According to Shaana Gwynne who runs Butterfly, a shop in Bandra, Mumbai, devoted only to cupcakes, “these are a novelty right now right around the world. People want to eat small quantities of things,” she explains.

Pooja Dhingra of Le15 Patisserie, a French-style confectionery outfit in Mumbai, attributes this desire for novelty to increasing exposure. “People’s mindsets have changed, and since they travel abroad, they are aware of new tastes,” she explains. “Also, many people who go abroad to study want to eat the same kind of foods once they are back.”

Kainaz Messman of the popular Theobroma bakery in Mumbai agrees. She says, “Customers these days have very short attention spans when it comes to dessert.” Messman reports that her regulars – who come in three to four times a week or even every day – constantly demand new treats.

“Abroad, people go to patisseries to eat the one or two things that a bakery will specialise in,” says Messman. “But that concept has yet to take off in India. For now, people want variety.”

ALL FOR A NEW TASTE
To supply this variety, there’s a whole new legion of dessert makers turning out newer, improved treats. Like Shaana Gwynne, who began making cupcakes when she and her husband moved to Mumbai from Goa. “No one else was specialising in cupcakes,” she says.

“I would get a lot of orders as they were available in so many flavours and could be personalised.” Gwynne, indeed, prides herself on decorating her cupcakes “I can incorporate pretty much anything that clients want,” she says.

When running the business from home got “absolutely crazy”, Gwynne partnered with an old friend, former Miss India Sarah Jane Dias, and opened Butterfly. “I was expecting a good response from women, girls and kids,” says Gwynne, “But I had not expected such a good response.” She now plans to offer weekly specials and has also devised a scheme whereby any items left over will go to charity.

Dhingra was also surprised by the reactions of customers to her macaroons. She says, “I didn’t know what a macaroon was until I went to France. I was training for a diploma in French pastry at the Le Cordon Bleu Institute and quickly became fascinated by the love affair the French have with macaroons – they queue up for them outside bakeries. I just thought ‘I have to try making this’ and although the first few times, my efforts were disastrous, I mastered the technique.”

Dhingra and her partners took a stall in the lobby of a suburban mall for a few days in January to showcase their wares. “Most people didn’t know what a macaroon was and had never tasted one before. Some found the passion fruit ones a little sour, while others found the rose too sweet,” recalls Dhingra.

Now, buoyed by success, she is hunting for a location for a patisserie. It isn’t just individuals who have cottoned on to the boom in exotic desserts, corporates are getting into the act as well. Dish Hospitality’s Gaurav Batra is bringing Cinnabon, an international dessert brand, to India. “We found that there was a big, if latent, demand for international-standard bakery products in India,” explains Batra.

We also realised that the customer is looking for familiar products in an unfamiliar avatar. Since people are familiar with the taste of cinnamon, we were confident that the products would have instant access to the Indian palate.” Cinnabon’s offerings include the classic cinnamon roll, chocolate cinnabon and pecan and caramel cinnabon. The chain already has an outlet in Delhi, and a Mumbai outlet is set to open by May.

NEW AVATARS
Other dessert makers who took the plunge to offer new versions of old favourites are finding that it pays to bake. Like sisters Anushka and Gayatri Kakkar, who run Divin-e-licious from a kiosk at Delhi’s Select Citywalk Mall.

Says Anushka, “My sister gave up eating eggs a while ago, and began developing eggless versions of cupcakes, cheesecakes, mousse cakes and tarts. So we decided to launch a home delivery business and were fortunate to receive a large order from Cartier. From then on, we received a stream of orders.”

After participating in exhibitions, the sisters took the kiosk and were stunned by the response they received. “Even though we have a limited variety at the mall, it helps people to know the taste of our products,” explains Anushka. “People who try them out can’t believe they are all eggless – some even tell us our cakes taste better.” Divin-e-licious’s other unique offerings include photo cakes and photo chocolates.

Michael Jacob from Mumbai, who runs Venial Sin, a home delivery business, also finds that offering your own take on classic favourites is a winning proposition. “People want to experiment within a certain range,” he explains. “But sometimes, they will try something new just once. Besides regular desserts, we offer chocolate lava cakes, liqueur cupcakes and lollipops, éclairs and lemon tarts – all of which have a steady clientele. But last Christmas, my gingerbread cookies didn’t work – I think they were too hard for most people.”

TIME TO CELEBRATE
Last year’s recession may have dampened the spirits of many entrepreneurs, but not dessert makers. “It’s always somebody’s birthday every day,” says Jacob blithely. Anushka Kakkar finds that “a lot of people order cupcakes to match their wedding invites, and send them out instead of mithai.”

Other big dessert occasions, according to Butterfly’s Shaana Gwynne, include Valentine’s Day, baby showers and bridal showers. “I also find that people come in and order a giant cupcake for a birthday as opposed to a regular cake,” says Gwynne. In contrast, Batra terms Cinnabon’s offerings as more of “an impulse purchase”.

Every 30 minutes, as a fresh batch of rolls is made, a bell is rung at the outlet to let customers know that fresh stock is available,” he says. “Since we have a tradition of gifting sweets, a lot of people take away our rolls and order extra frosting as well.”

TAKE THE CHALLENGE
The availability of good ingredients can be a challenge. Butterfly’s Shaana Gwynne sources all her edible decorations – including glitter, heart and alphabet sprinkles – from London. “I keep asking friends to bring them down for me,” she explains. Pooja Dhingra of Le 15 is in the process of growing her own fruit and herbs at a farmhouse outside Mumbai to ensure a steady supply of organic produce.

The other stumbling block is the fact that any dessert is high in calories and correspondingly, low in health benefits. “This is the biggest problem,” says Dhingra. “We are working with ingredients like granola and yoghurt to make our products healthier.” Batra points to the three sizes of Cinnabons on offer when asked about healthy options.

“The absence of egg also helps to cut down on the calories,” he adds. Anushka Kakkar offers sugar-free options to customers. “We also make a chocolate nougat cake without cream, which is light and gooey,” she says. But ultimately, Shaana Gwynne is reconciled to her profession. “I have friends who tell me I’m making them fat,” she says. “But to me dessert – and cupcakes – are an indulgence.”

THE EGG FACTOR
When it comes to dessert, we are more likely to demand eggless options than healthy treats. This is the opinion of Pooja Dhingra of Le15 Patisserie. According to her, “People are more veg conscious than health conscious, which puts us in somewhat of a dilemma, as macaroons have egg whites in them.”

Kainaz Messman of Theobroma also agrees that people looking for vegetarian variants of desserts constitute a “significant portion of the market”. “We ignored that for a long time,” she explains. “But we found more and more customers demanding eggless options, so now we stock three to four eggless desserts.”

According to Messman, it isn’t just dietary restrictions that make customers demand eggless desserts. She explains, “People who are vegan also want eggless options. Others can’t digest egg or have cholesterol problems.”

For Gaurav Batra of Cinnabon, turning the brand’s offerings into eggless variants was a no-brainer. “It instantly doubles the size of the market,” he explains, adding that Cinnabon’s eggless offerings are unique to India.