Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mardi Gras king cakes popular nationwide

King cake mail orders are bolstering sales this season

Allison Good, The Times Picayune 
King cake sales are strong this Mardi Gras season, as local bakeries continue to grow their mail order businesses. "We've been here almost 20 years, and mail order keeps growing every year," said Manny Randazzo, who owns Manny Randazzo King Cakes. "Our shipping and online sales are increasing exponentially."
generalkingcake_1024.jpgShipping has become an important part of the king cake business at Gambino's Bakery.
Gambino's Bakery owner Sam Scelfo agrees that shipping has become an integral part of the sale of his purple-green-and-gold confections.
"Sales are about where they were this time last year, so we expect to make around 100,000 or so king cakes, and we usually ship 22,000 to 25,000 of those," he said.
Though the 2012 Mardi Gras season is two weeks shorter than last year's, David Haydel Jr. said he expects sales of king cakes, which are a traditional Carnival season treat and often come with plastic babies hidden inside, to spike closer to parade times.
"People want to bring king cakes on the parade route, so they buy more," the manager of Haydel's Bakery said. "We're geared up to do close to 60,000 cakes, and so far we've been making 800 to 1,000 a day."
For Sucre founder Joel Dondis, sales have exceeded expectations and are forcing changes in strategy.
"We restrategize our production everyday because our sales are up four times over last year, and we've just been trying to meet the demand of our stores and online business," he said. "We are patiently growing because we only want to produce so many. We could have a bunch of people making them 24 hours a day, but we think that might take the specialness out of this crafted product."
As for trending king cake flavors, the traditional cinnamon with icing remains as popular as ever, with cream cheese-filled cakes taking second place.
"Traditional king cake is by far our bestseller, followed closely by cream cheese," Haydel said.
king-cake-assembly-line.jpgAt Gambino's headquarters in Kenner, workers form an assembly line to efficiently assemble mail orders of king cakes.
According to Randazzo, that has long been the case for his bakery. "The traditional is the big favorite, and the cream cheese has always been this popular," he said.
Specialty black and gold cakes sold extremely well while the Saints were in the playoffs, and bakeries plan to receive Valentine's Day requests.
"We were making black and gold king cakes out the wazoo when the Saints were still in," Haydel said. "Anytime Mardi Gras falls after Valentine's Day is great because people send in orders for heart-shaped king cakes or pink and white sugar, so Valentine's Day is always lucrative."
Scelfo said Gambino's was also selling more king cakes when the Saints were in the playoffs. "When the Saints are playing, our business is better because people feel better and have more parties, so they buy food for them," he said.
Still, said Joel Randazzo Forjet, people are definitely spending on king cakes even though the Saints season is over.
"I would say that you would not know that we're supposed to be in a recession," the owner of Nonna Randazzo's Italian Bakery said. "People crave their king cake."
Scelfo said Gambino's is doing its part to ensure that king cake remains afforable for customers. "Even though commodity costs have grown substantially in the past 12 months, we haven't raised prices from last year, we've just absorbed them," he said. "For a lot of people it's been a struggle, so we've held the line."
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