- Cake-a-licious on home bakers and the current crisis
As Sri Lanka’s economic crisis continues to worsen, we as citizens are all experiencing the numerous pitfalls of a country in debt; most notably the widespread price hikes of essential items. The increase in prices for gas, fuel, and numerous other commodities as well as the lack of such commodities has resulted in a chain reaction where businesses, households, and individuals, and everyone except the privileged, really, are struggling to survive.
Within this landscape of struggle are small businesses, especially online food businesses like home bakers; a category of home-based entrepreneurs who absolutely flourished during the pandemic, but are facing extreme and unprecedented difficulties.
‘Cake-a-licious’ is one such home business that began its journey well ahead of the pandemic curve, launching Cake-a-licious in 2017 and coming up on celebrating five years of business this June. Brunch chatted with Cake-a-licious Founder Pumudi Fernando on her experience in navigating a home-based business during these turbulent times.
An engineer by day and home baker by night, Pumudi offers a variety of customised cakes and cupcakes, and is the one-woman show behind Cake-a-licious. “This is all run by me. Basically I manage everything including baking, decorating, social media, responding to customers, and deliveries as well,” she shared. Pumudi’s journey with Cake-a-licious was inspired by her mother: “My biggest inspiration is my mother. She used to bake us birthday cakes for every birthday. She is the one who taught me to bake and I am forever grateful for that.”
When Cake-a-licious first started out, it wasn’t smooth sailing – Pumudi experienced many difficulties, especially with the growing competition and the never-ending pool of homemakers, which saw huge boom during the first stages of the pandemic. However, because baking has always been her passion, she never allowed herself to be deterred, not even for a moment, saying: “I believe that what makes Cake-a-licious special is not focusing on the number of followers or orders I get, but focusing providing the best service for each and every customer.”
Sourcing ingredients was also a challenge for Pumudi even before the current crisis. Moreover, when she first began Cake-a-licious, she also lacked knowledge in handling social media, which was imperative for a business that ran solely online. Regardless, she was able to overcome these obstacles by applying herself and really learning to grow her business on an exclusively digital platform.
However, with the current crisis, Pumudi noted that despite all her progress, she felt that for every step she took forward, the challenges of the state of the country forced her to take two steps back. The overall economic downfall has been one of her biggest challenges, and has relegated businesses like hers – which offer custom cakes, cupcakes, and dessert items – to be considered luxury items, making them rare purchases that people will not choose to spend their money on casually, because in many cases, they no longer have enough disposable income to spend on treats, even to mark special occasions.
The greatest concern for Cake-a-licious, like for all food businesses and many other sectors, has been the increase in prices. Pumudi shared that her profit margins had shrunk drastically, adding that her expenses were incredibly high, forcing her to raise the prices of her desserts, which in turn made them an economically burdensome item for customers to purchase.
Aside from pricing, there is also scarcity, with another major difficulty being sourcing ingredients. “One of the biggest challenges has been to find butter. Finding butter is like searching for gold,” Pumudi said, noting that when items like butter, which is an essential item for her products, become scarce, then businesses such as hers find themselves in trouble. “Even the colouring that I use – the Wilton brand – is not available in Sri Lanka now. It is an imported item and it is nowhere to be found,” she added.
Owing to these major adjustments, like many other similar businesses, Pumudi has had to heavily scale down the business, especially by taking far fewer orders: “Where I would usually take six to eight orders, I now get a maximum of about two to three orders per week,” she said.
Interestingly, despite the present situation being so bleak, Pumudi noted that her passion for baking still remained and that she would always adore baking, although there certainly was an added element of stress related to the process at present. “I had an experience recently where I had a cake come out of the oven and completely collapse on me and I had to redo the whole thing. This is pretty much the worst thing that can happen, but with these new prices and the challenges in sourcing ingredients, I was more concerned than I normally would be. Prices of cooking chocolate are insanely high now,” Pumudi explained.
Before things in Sri Lanka took a turn for the worse, Pumudi shared that she had hoped to open up a small café. Her dream remains, although things will be a lot more difficult. “I have been inspired by so many other home bakers and I have been seeing most of them post stories stating that they will either be taking a temporary hiatus, or limiting their production because they either can’t find ingredients, or things are too costly. It has been incredibly disheartening to see these announcements,” she said.
Pumudi of course is not the only person suffering from the consequences of Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis. The online platforms that were once thriving entrepreneurial playgrounds for homegrown businesses are fast becoming a graveyard where small businesses go to die – with many announcing that due to the current situation they simply cannot sustain a business. And, while Pumudi actually has a day job to fall back on, not everyone enjoys the same luxury.
For many, their online business is their only stream of income and they are all currently faced with a serious risk to their survival. With the crisis still very much ongoing and progress in resolving the crisis being painfully slow, it can only be hoped that progress and hope reach these businesses before it’s too late.