Bakers cash in on Instagram's obsession with cakes

Instagram celebrity Chelsey White (left) has more than 250,000 followers on her account, which includes creations such as the one below.
Instagram celebrity Chelsey White (above) has more than 250,000 followers on her account.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Instagram celebrity Chelsey White (left) has more than 250,000 followers on her account, which includes creations such as the one below.
Instagram celebrity Chelsey White has more than 250,000 followers on her account, which includes creations such as the one above.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The baking channel in the app's Explore section is among the most popular

NEW YORK • In a cramped Manhattan apartment kitchen, Ms Chelsey White bakes, assembles, frosts and decorates an elaborate mermaid- themed cake. 

The four-hour process is recorded, edited to a few brisk minutes  and shared on social media.

Purpose served, the three-tiered, picture-perfect cake is sliced and put in a Tupperware container.

Ms White, 26, takes all her leftovers to the office. She hates wasting cake.

With  more than 250,000 followers and videos that generate hundreds of thousands of views, she is an Instagram celebrity. 

She used to sell cakes to her fans, but now makes money selling the concept of cake, in conjunction with partners such as the Food Network and AwesomenessTV.

"I'm getting way more money from content creation than I was from cakes," she said.

She declined to get into the details of her contracts, but added that she now earns more than she did when she was accepting eight cake orders a week, at about US$100 ( S$138) each. 

Instagram's baking community is as well-liked as cake itself. The baking channel in the app's Explore section is among the most popular, based on time spent perusing it.

The hashtag "cake" has generated more than 45 million posts and "cakestagram" has 1.8 million.  

While professional pastry chefs use Instagram to advertise their brick-and-mortar businesses, cakestagram is driven by self-taught patissiers who work out of their homes and have no interest in opening bakeries.

Instead, they focus on online ordering, video-content partnerships and social media-personality- driven workshops. 

Ms Andrea Walters, a Kansas housewife, was approached by the Roundup Cookie Retreat to teach two baking workshops, at which attendees pay US$250 for weekend- long tutorials. 

Another popular baker, Ms Ksenia Penkina, makes her classes available online for about US$150 a video.  

Despite their popularity, many bakers choose not to pursue full- time careers.

Ms Ashley Shotwell, whose colourful cakes for Hella Vegan have found popularity among the vegan e-community, is still figuring out how to translate her 30,000 followers into a business beyond selling cakes.

Ms White insists on keeping her day job in finance, despite the money coming in from cake videos.

Ms Walters, who has more than 17,000 followers, took years to go from selling cookies to teaching classes. "You get to a point where you're finally confident in who you are as a baker and you're willing to take that next step," she said. 

Insta-bakers are sensitive to changes made by the app.

Ms White, for instance, finds that Instagram favours videos.

For Ms Walters, it took a considerable amount of time to determine which hashtags help drive sales, rather than just likes on her page.

For each cake she bakes, Ms White usually makes four short Instagram videos, a minute-long Facebook video and a longer YouTube video.

The editing process takes hours.

"Cake decorating on social platforms has drastically evolved," she said. "To truly excel on different platforms, you have to make different kinds of content."

Because of the complexity and time involved in selling content and classes, some Instagrammers prefer taking baked good orders, although it is generally less profitable.

Bakers usually recover the costs of ingredients, but fail to properly charge for their labour.

"The hardest part is undervaluing your time," Ms White said.

  Some Instagram bakers find the transition from local pastry whiz to social media star difficult.

The social media platform has 700 million users and popular bakers can quickly find themselves overwhelmed with orders from new customers.

  As a result, many Insta-bakers limit the amount of orders they take, creating lengthy waitlists.

Deliberate or not, scarcity drives demand. But no matter how they choose to make money, these Insta- bakers all share a love of baked goods, although they can get a little sick of the sugar rush they profit from.

Many choose not to eat their desserts.

Others do not make real baked goods at all - they just decorate styrofoam cake forms to save money and time. 

Asked how much cake she eats, Ms White said with a laugh: "I've a love-hate relationship with my cakes." 

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2017, with the headline 'Content sells like hotcakes'. Print Edition | Subscribe