Keep calm and have a tart

Patisseries, cafes report healthy sales of sweet treats as pandemic stress drives people towards feel-good food

Marmalade Pantry reported a rise in dessert orders, with about half of its delivery sales coming from cupcakes (left) and other sweet treats.
Marmalade Pantry reported a rise in dessert orders, with about half of its delivery sales coming from cupcakes (left) and other sweet treats. PHOTO: MARMALADE PANTRY
Berry Berry Tart from Japanese pastry cafe Fruit Paradise. Japan Foods Holding, which owns the cafe, says demand for its tarts went up threefold during the pandemic. PHOTO: JAPAN FOODS
Tarte by Cheryl Koh in Shaw Centre says its fruit tarts are its bestsellers. PHOTO: TARTE BY CHERYL KOH
Bacha Coffee at Ion Orchard, which specialises in Arabica coffee, boasts decor inspired by the original cafe in the Dar el Bacha Palace in Marrakesh. PHOTO: BACHA COFFEE

When things get stressful, many people turn to sweets and desserts for comfort.

Besides the recent run on baking supplies at the height of the coronavirus crisis here, many patisseries and cafes are also reporting healthy sales.

Gifting and sending care packages to family and friends have boosted online sales, as baked goods travel well and are welcome any time of the day.

Tarte by Cheryl Koh in Shaw Centre, which is under the Les Amis Group, started islandwide delivery during the circuit breaker and has continued to see strong demand for online orders.

The bestsellers are its fruit tarts, which cost about $13 each.

Ms Koh said: "We were able to reach out to a different demographic who has not dined in with us before.

"During the circuit breaker, more people were buying our pastries and products as gifts for friends, family and colleagues as a way to uplift spirits, and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries."

Corporate orders surged too, including a regular patron - who asked to remain anonymous - who ordered a constant stream of pastries to encourage healthcare workers and those in need.

Its dine-in cafe is now usually full even on weekdays. Total sales from delivery, takeaway and dine-in are up to 21/2 times what they were before the pandemic.

There are plans to open a takeaway outlet at Raffles City, said Ms Koh.

Bacha Coffee, which comes from Morocco and opened its first cafe at Ion Orchard in September last year, is also fully packed most of the time. It has a coffee bar and retail boutique at Takashimaya department store, as well as a retail boutique at the airport.

Marmalade Pantry reported a rise in dessert orders, with about half of its delivery sales coming from cupcakes (above) and other sweet treats. PHOTO: MARMALADE PANTRY

Its cafe sports striking tones of saffron and indigo, black-and-white marble floors and geometric-patterned latticework, inspired by the original cafe in the Dar el Bacha Palace in Marrakesh.

It specialises in Arabica coffee from around the world and serves food and pastries, including its signature croissants.

Operations manager Ingrid Leboeuf said visits to the coffee room and coffee bar have seen "steady growth" since phase two of the economy's reopening.

"In the wake of Covid-19, we have noticed that customers are looking for beautiful places where they can take a 'voyage' from working from home." she said. "Everyone is tired and stressed. They appreciate the change to escape from reality for a while."

She added that the outlets see many returning customers. The cafe's busiest hours are from its opening time at 9.30am to late afternoon. The only lull is on weekday evenings when it is perhaps too late for caffeine, hence a shorter wait for tables.

Former online bakery Patisserie Cle, which opened in March at Paya Lebar Office, has also enjoyed robust sales.

It is the first bricks-and-mortar shop by Ms Joy Chiam and Ms Germaine Li, who had been baking from home for more than a year before that.

Ms Chiam used to work at Joel Robuchon Restaurant, while Ms Li was the pastry chef of Les Amis. Sales have increased two-to threefold since they opened their takeaway shop, said Ms Chiam.

She added: "During the circuit breaker, 70 per cent of orders were for gifts, with deliveries sent to a different address from the customer's.

"We were lucky that we had a ready online platform and delivery network because we were a virtual business. And because we do not have dine-in, we were not adversely affected by the circuit breaker."

Top sellers are their tarts, such as the Orh Blanc Tart, which is a fusion of Mont Blanc and orh nee, a Teochew yam dessert. They cost upwards of $8 each, while a slice of cake goes for $8.50.

Japan Foods Holding, which owns Japanese pastry cafes Fruit Paradise in Ang Mo Kio Hub and 111 Somerset, as well as Kagurazaka Saryo in VivoCity, has seen double-digit growth in sales compared with before the pandemic. In particular, demand for its tarts has gone up threefold.

Its spokesman said: "Many of the tart orders were sent as birthday and festive gifts during the circuit breaker, which was very heartwarming. This was probably one of the best ways to convey care and concern when we could not be physically in touch.

"Now, we see more family groups of three to five coming to our outlets, especially on weekends."

Marmalade Pantry, which has outlets in Ion Orchard, Oasia Hotel Novena and Oasia Hotel Downtown, has seen revenue drop by more than 25 per cent last month compared with January, because its customers usually dine in for meals and seating capacity has decreased.

But it did notice an uptick in dessert orders for gifting. About half of its total delivery sales came from cupcakes and other sweet treats.

Ms Betty Tan, marketing director of Refinery Concepts, which owns the cafes, said: "Increasingly, our regular customers who supported us during the circuit breaker are ordering for their friends rather than for themselves."

The brand is working on more cake flavours for delivery, as well as a festive collection for Christmas.

As it turns out, the human craving for sweets when one is stressed is backed by science.

Assistant Professor Verena Tan of the Singapore Institute of Technology's Dietetics and Nutrition programme said: "Stress causes the body to release cortisol, a hormone critical in managing fat storage and energy use in the body.

"Cortisol is known to increase appetite and may encourage cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods."

When people eat "comfort" foods, which are usually high in fat and sugar, there is increased production of serotonin.

Serotonin is the body's feel-good chemical, which makes people feel more calm and relaxed.

"Stress increases your body's need for serotonin," said Dr Tan.

She cautioned, however, that these foods can easily lead to weight gain and recommended other ways to manage stress.

These include physical activity which produces endorphins, another "feel-good" chemical in the brain that reduces stress.

Dr Tan's message is clear: Indulge in moderation and balance it with good old exercise.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2020, with the headline Keep calm and have a tart. Subscribe