With a trained chef as a mother to teach her cookery from an early age and a father who worked for Lloyds Bank providing commercial nous, it’s perhaps not surprising that Gemma Parker has ended up running an increasingly successful cake-making business in Norfolk.
Parker gained inspiration through her globe-trotting - she has travelled extensively in Africa, Asia and Europe - and fine-tuned her culinary skills at Leiths School of Food & Wine, thanks to a scholarship she won through the Observer Food Monthly.
"The training was intense but a good basis for everything I do now. Cooking has always been a part of my upbringing and I saw a gap in the market for home-baked cakes, using seasonal, locally sourced and, where possible, organic ingredients," she says.
"Buying locally supports businesses in the Norfolk and Suffolk area, as well as reducing food miles that contribute to carbon emissions."
Her Humble Cake business currently operates out of her parents’ house - the Old Rectory at Flixton on the Norfolk and Suffolk border - but she needs a larger oven and there is scope to take on staff as demand grows.
So she is planning on a move soon, but not far; she will be relocating to a purpose-built log cabin in her parents’ garden. Her parents run a holiday cottages business and Parker helps out with that when she is not busy.
Sales are via mail order, where her website plays a pivotal role, and she also supplies locally a deli, two cafés and a museum, as well as private individuals.
Her website has also been the ideal vehicle for launching her cake club. "It’s like having a subscription to a magazine, only every month you receive a cake instead," she says.
Club members get a cake that matches the seasonal ingredients in them: for spring, there is rhubarb; if it’s summer it must be raspberry cake; then there’s pear and amaretto or spiced apple in the autumn. There is also the classic Simnel cake at Easter and a traditional Christmas offering, with a tasty cranberry and orange alternative for Yuletide. And there are alternatives at other times of the year too, so if you don’t fancy gooseberry and elderflower...
So far, she has 20 subscriptions, some from as far away as Scotland, and she is confident they will grow rapidly. They are particularly suitable for the "hard-to-buy-for" category which, she says, includes most men.
== Going it alone ==
The business: Humble Cake in Flixton, Suffolk
Finance: a £5,000 loan from a family member to get the website up and running and for "bits and bobs". The log cabin housing the expanded business is costing between £6,000 and £7,000
Training: Won a scholarship through the Observer Food Monthly to Leiths School of Food & Wine
The Cake Club: an annual subscription costs £90 plus £60 postage, £49 for six months plus £30 postage for a seasonal cake delivered to your doorstep
Marketing: in the early days it involved issuing press releases to local newspapers such as the Eastern Daily Press to raise the business’ profile in the local community
== The pros and cons ==
The first was to get enough exposure in a rural area, although word-of-mouth recommendations are now helping. The second was convincing some customers that quality organic ingredients don’t come cheap and that has to be reflected in the price.
I am most excited about the fact that the concept works and that I am now confident my business will grow by 50% a year. My non-traditional wedding cakes are going well. I think that some traditional wedding cakes are lavishly presented, but that often means sacrificing taste.