Cake Ladies: Inside The Box Thinking

The New York Times: “Elsewhere, the American appetite for packaged baking mixes is waning, according to the market research firm Mintel, as consumers move away from packaged foods with artificial ingredients and buy more from in-store bakeries and specialty pastry shops. Yet in the small, mostly indigenous communities that dot rural Alaska, box cake is a stalwart staple, the star of every community dessert table and a potent fund-raising tool.”

“The offerings in village stores often resemble those in the mini-marts or bodegas of America’s urban food deserts, at two and three times the price. Food journeys in via jet, small plane and barge. Milk and eggs spoil fast. Produce gets roughed up. Among the Hostess doughnuts, Spam and soda, cake mix is one of the few items on shelves everywhere that require actual cooking. As a result, tricking out mixes has become a cottage industry, and many villages have a ‘cake lady’ with her signature twist. Some bake as a hobby, while others do a brisk business selling cakes in places where getting to a bakery requires a plane ticket.”

“In America’s northernmost town, Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow), the baker Mary Patkotak is an expert at gaming cake economics. She uses Betty Crocker triple chocolate fudge mix for her famous cherry-chocolate cake. In the village store, it costs $4.59 a box. On Amazon, where Ms. Patkotak orders it, it’s $1.29. Alaska’s many weather delays mean the mix never shows up on time, but she doesn’t care because it qualifies her for partial refunds on her annual Prime membership.
‘I can’t remember the last time I paid the Amazon Prime fee,’ she said.”

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