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Beating COVID blues: Koreans open wallets for ‘sweet luxuries’

Vegan chocolate cake from Plant Cafe (Plant Cafe’s official Instagram)
Vegan chocolate cake from Plant Cafe (Plant Cafe’s official Instagram)


This year will be the first time Choi Kyung-mi ordered a cake for Christmas. The freelance writer placed an order for a 38,000 won chocolate vegan cake she planned on sharing with friends and family at a party to celebrate the end of the year. 

She was one of the lucky ones: Cakes have already been selling out at bakeries across the country.

Tous Les Jours bakery franchise operator CJ Foodville said it has seen an explosive growth in reservations for its Christmas cakes this year, as many virus-wary consumers, like Choi, plan to celebrate at home.

The total number of reservations made between Nov. 17 to Nov. 30 has tripled from those placed in the same period last year, CJ Foodville said.

“We are running all our production lines 24/7 to smoothly deliver the orders to our customers,” said an official from CJ Foodville.

The cake craze was evident at CJ rival Paris Baguette too. 

The total number of Christmas cakes reserved on the company’s delivery app over the first seven days of December had likewise tripled compared to the same period last year, chain operator SPC said. Reservations are expected to grow even more in the coming week when the Christmas holidays near, it added.

But ongoing inflation in key ingredients -- eggs, flour and milk -- has cast a shadow of concern for both large and small cake makers.

One cake shop owner in Gyeonggi Province said it raised the price of their Christmas cake by 500 won per slice. It was an inevitable decision, the owner said, because strawberries were more expensive this year.

CJ’s Tous Les Jour also said it is “feeling the pressure of price increases.”

“I’ve heard that prices (of cake) are different than before because of the bird flu, a hike in raw milk prices and on top of that, a rise in international grain prices from a global supply chain disruption,” said a company official.

A promotional image of Josun Palace Hotel’s 250,000 won Christmas cake (Josun Palace Hotel)
A promotional image of Josun Palace Hotel’s 250,000 won Christmas cake (Josun Palace Hotel)

For hotel bakeries, the notion that Christmas is a time people deserve to indulge in “small luxuries” have helped boost sales. Seasonal cakes on offer are priced at between 60,000 won to 120,000 won on average, but the hefty price tag didn’t seem to faze customers.

One such extravagant example is the White Tree Christmas Cake from Josun Palace Hotel. The cake’s price is a jaw dropping 250,000 won, but it’s received a lot of customer inquiries and sales are expected to surpass expectations, the hotel said.

“Sales of luxury hotel cakes have been growing since last year. We expect that trend to extend this year, with a lot of customers purchasing them as a way to uplift the gloomy mood from the pandemic,” said Jang Min-jin, a spokesperson for the Josun Palace Hotel.

Cakes will keep flying off the shelves throughout the year, experts say, because many people are sick and tired of being alone and yearn for the “human connection” that is felt when blowing candles on a Christmas cake with friends and loved ones.

“Humans are social beings that like to connect and socialize with their family, friends and neighbors. Many people are craving spending time with other people, especially since the pandemic. Throwing a home party and sharing cake with one another is a great way to feel a sense of community that went missing for a long time,” said sociology professor Kim Yun-tae of Korea University.

The prolonged social distancing over fast spreading virus cases is what motivated Choi to find something that would spark joy -- even if it comes at a price.

“All the restrictions from COVID-19 and social distancing left me nothing to do for Christmas. I wanted to at least feel the holiday mood by eating a pretty decorated Christmas cake,” Choi said.

By Kang Jae-eun (kang.jaeeun@heraldcorp.com)
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