7 January 2013

Ethiopia: Holidays Bring Good Tidings for Bakers

Andualem, a life-time baker, is seen here baking a chocolate coverd torta

Andualem Mengistu has been baking cakes for the past 18 years, starting from when he was only 20 years old. Six cafes in Addis Abeba, including Romina Cafe, call on his services. Today, with the help of an assistant, he can make 1,500 tortas (sweet cakes) a day.

Tortas are sweet cakes, usually reserved for birthdays and weddings, but they have become a staple holiday dessert in the City. Hence, last Thursday, January 3, 2013, Andualem was busy preparing cake ingredients to fulfil Christmas orders at Romina Cafe, onKing George Street, around Arat Kilo.

The wide kitchen is engulfed in the aroma of flour, vanilla and different cake ingredients, which makes one crave for a slice of cake. Romina, established in 1980, has been selling tortas since 1992.

"Whenever the holidays come, I am busy baking tortas," Andualem said.

"He can make 20 different cakes," said Michael Girma, the cafe's manager.

Different bakeries, Fortune talked to throughout the City, produced around 1,000 to 1,500 tortas during holidays, except for Kaldi's, which distributes 12,000 tortas, on average, to its 14 branches during major holidays, like; Christmas, New Years, Easter and Valentine's Day.

A one kilo torta costs 75 Br, at Belay Teklu's, in Teklehaimanot; between 160 Br and 190 Br, at Kaldi's and 180 Br, at Romina. At the higher end, Bilo's and the Sheraton charge 270 Br and 350 Br, respectively. The same torta at Bilo's was 70 Br, just three years ago. There has also been a 20 Br increase at Romina, up from the 160 Birr of last year. Despite that, a kilogram of wheat flour has shown a 2.5 Br decrement within a year; without any other significant changes in cake ingredients. A one kilo torta takes 150gms to 200gms of flour to make.

On Thursday, a kilogram of wheat flour was selling for 8.60 Br, at Merkato flour market, and 10 Br, at factories; down from the 15 Br and 12 Br respectively, it was last year. Factory prices are lower ,because Merkato traders cut prices when their customers began buying directly from them.

"It is because confectioners have started buying the flour directly from flour factories," said Demeke Abu, a flour store owner at Merkato. "We do not have a market like before."

Some of the bigger brands, Fortune visited, use various liquors in their cakes, to bring in different tastes and flavours.

"The society is accustomed to eating cakes, but it still is not familiar with different tastes and flavours," says Andualem.

Cake ingredients are imported fromDubai,Austria, Saudi,MadagascarandEgypt, as luxury materials, according to salespeople at Delta Premium Pastry and Bakery Ingredients Supplier, and Samjo International Plc, both of which are importers of cake ingredients.

Mama cream, local margarine, marmalade, sugar, water, table butter, egg and milk are the only cake inputs produced withinEthiopia.

A 10KgChantillycream costs 1,500 Br, while the locally produced mama cream is 65 Br per litre. Special items for wedding cakes, such as strawberry and orange flavoured extracts, are each 20 Br a kilogram, whilst almond slices, preferred for wedding cakes, are 850 Br a kilogram. For those that enjoy cakes with alcohol, a bottle of Amarula is 700 Br, and can be used for several cakes.

A kilo of torta takes 150gms of strawberry, two cherry fruits, 80gms of Chantilly cream, six eggs, 200gm of sugar, 250gm of super gateau (optional), 100gm of chocolate, 200gm of margarine, two grams of vanilla powder (herb spice), a tea spoon of baking powder and a spoon of Amarula, according to Aman Reta, co-owner and teacher at Karem Bakery School for the last 15 years.

"Though some bakers use the inputs differently, it does not make a major difference on the torta's input cost," said Aman. "The input cost never exceeds 100Br."

"Most of the bakers at all cake houses were my student at one time", said Aman, whose school graduates an average of 25 students a year.

A litre ofChantillycream can be used to bake 12 tortas, whilst the same mama cream only produces three tortas. Cakes baked withChantillycan last for 72 hours, whilst the latter's are only good for 24 hours, after which the cake starts cracking.

"AChantillycreamed cake can stay up to 15 days at four degrees Celsius," says Aman.

Belay Teklu uses mama cream, local margarine, baking powder, and marmalade boiled with sugar, in addition to flour and egg, basic for all.

Kaldi's and Romina uses strawberry flavour, Chantilly cream, cherry fruit and black chocolate, whilst Bilo's and Sheraton use vanilla powder, syrup and Amarula.

"We are far away from international baking standards. There are not enough bakers in the market," said Aman.

"Bakers are too secretive with their methods. But it is better to come and work together, to develop the whole cake standard and even to create other cake types related to our cultural foods," said Michael.

"It is not nuclear knowledge," says Aman.

Torta is profitable and its price increment is not related to the flour or ingredients," according to Andualem, who plans to have his own bakery in the future.

But Aman argues that "had it not been for the highly increased rent for café houses, cake prices would not have increased frequently and it would have been affordable for every income level."

Most café houses, in good locations within the city, pay 40,000 Br to 60,000 Br in monthly rent, up from just 20,000 Br to 32,000 Br, two years ago, Fortune learnt.

In order to enter into the bakery market with a single café, one should have to have at least half a million birr nowadays, in addition to working capital, according to Aman.

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