Hummingbird Bakery founder Tarek Malouf on the competitive cupcake industry

Cupcake from Hummingbird Bakery

Tarek Malouf, founder of the Hummingbird Bakery, discusses his all-American approach to his business

Why is everyone talking about the current cupcake craze as if it’s a fad, asks Tarek Malouf. The founder of The Hummingbird Bakery has been selling cupcakes and other American treats for six years now; has three shops in prime London locations, a cookery book and sales of £2.5m so far this year.

The shops sell around 22,000 cupcakes a week. Sweetmeats have history, he observes. “Cake is something that’s been going on for hundreds of years—it’s a bit more than a passing trend.”

Malouf hadn’t always wanted to work in the food and retail industry—he had designs on being in advertising—but he spotted a market opportunity and spent 18 months planning his first bakery in Portobello Road, which opened in 2004.

“I was quite naïve,” he admits. “I imagined I’d open a cute little shop somewhere. At the time, London didn’t have any specific American bakeries so I started small and simple and adapted to the customers’ needs.”

He describes his plans as “quite conservative” and is averse to growth for the sake of quality. He’s planning to open a fourth shop in London next year, but is giving the shop in Soho a chance to “bed down” beforehand.

He says: “I don’t believe in really fast growth that the business can’t sustain. I like to concentrate on one thing at a time, as best I can.”

With fierce competition including Lola’s Cupcakes, Harrods, and Lily Vanilli, Malouf says he tries to differentiate his business by marketing its American roots.

“We stick to American-style, authentic cakes and we bake everything on site,” he says. “Our biggest sellers are the cupcakes by a huge margin. But there’s a growing trend for whoopee pies—like a cake sandwich. We’ve been making them for a year now. And pecan and pumpkin pie—that’s where American baking excels.”

He doesn’t have much call to defend his calorie-laden little delights, says Malouf, despite the dismay over national obesity levels. People take them for what they are—an occasional treat.

“Cupcakes are an affordable luxury. They appeal to peoples’ nostalgia. And people do eat cake—we have celebrities who are supposedly on macrobiotic diets… Sales have been good from the beginning,” he says.

By Amy Duff

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