F&B

The hype behind Marvin Bagube’s chocolate dreamcake, explained

What does it really take to build a brand, develop an original product, and go viral without any marketing promotions? Just ask Marvin Bagube of Le Sucre Lab

Photos courtesy of Marvin Bagube

Marvin Bagube has never been so busy. Since September, his kitchen commissary has been operating for 24 hours, churning close to 1,000 of his signature dreamcakes daily. If before he was too occupied thinking what to do with his extra time, now he is too engaged to think of anything else other than finishing customer orders.

FILLING THE GAP

Bagube’s Le Sucre Lab began as a lifestyle class, teaching modern pastries like guava and coconut cupcakes mostly to moms in search of a new hobby or profitable business. Along with friend and former student Renan dela Cruz, Bagube opened the “lab” in Sta. Ana, Manila in January 2017, hoping to be able to share his experience and knowledge to others. Though profitable, the baking school wasn’t being utilized to its full capacity, prompting the business partners to think of how to earn more. “Sayang ang weekday na walang income na pumapasok so we formulated products that we could sell. We started with pralines last February.”

His chocolates quickly gained interest as they showcased local flavors—ensaimada, calamansi tart, and salted pili rocher among others. But when influential Instagram account Masarap Ba? posted and raved about his chocolates, his sales spiked. “Suddenly, we found ourselves busy. We would get 1,000 followers a day. Still, we had time to do something else in between allowing the pralines to set.” This was when they decided to introduce something he has long been crafting in his mind.

INTRODUCTION TO INDULGENCE
Marvin Bagube

“I wanted a product that’s unique (in terms of presentation) but familiar (in terms of flavor),” he says. His chocolate dreamcake was a work in progress that saw its culmination at the right time. “I finished the recipes in different stages. They weren’t developed all at the same time. The cake base, for example, was perfected three years ago, while the ganache just two years ago.”

His creation consisted of a moist chocolate cake at the bottom, layered with 64 percent dark chocolate ganache, a layer of chocolate goo, akin to a custard, chocolate shards, then finished off with a liberal dusting of cocoa powder. “It’s very textural. There’s something fudgey, gooey, and cakey.” It’s rich and indulgent alright, but what made it stand out is the fact that it is stored and presented in a food-grade tin can. “It was hard to stack cakes in boxes. Plus, they take up space so I thought of the can so it’s stackable, easy to transport, and doesn’t need to be sliced.”

His creation consisted of a moist chocolate cake at the bottom, layered with 64 percent dark chocolate ganache, a layer of chocolate goo, akin to a custard, chocolate shards, then finished off with a liberal dusting of cocoa powder. “It’s very textural. There’s something fudgey, gooey, and cakey.”

His idea clicked. Not long after, people started ordering and even giving them away as tokens in events. Again, it caught the eye—and discriminating palate—of Masarap Ba? Fortunately, it received a positive reception and, as a result, another wave of followers and cake orders. “Our production doubled. From 400, we have been getting 600 to 800 orders a day.” The demand was overwhelming and unexpectedly high that they were forced to postpone making pralines since they were handcrafted and intricate, and, thus, much harder to produce and maintain.

Bagube had to move to a bigger space, hire more employees (now at 35), and run a tight ship, churning cakes 24 hours a day just to keep up with the demand. Most importantly, he had to guarantee the quality of every single item that comes out of his kitchen. “Every batch has to be tasted. That’s important when doing mass production.”

CROWD PLEASER
Le Sucre Lab’s pralines

Initially, Bagube thought that his peak was a consequence of hype. But three months in and orders still continue to increase. Now that his operations have stabilized, he has turned his focus on marketing and expanding the brand. “Communication with the audience is important because if not, mawawala ka agad. I studied the copycats and competitors (there are 86 as of writing). They don’t have a solid branding. In social media, you need to have an image and a taste that will leave an impression. Our core purpose is to share indulgence to people and I believe we have solidly stuck to that.”

Social media has become a vital tool in the industry. It’s the new platform where practically everybody—from hardcore foodies to celebrities and regular people—gives their two cents whether you like it or not. “I never marketed our product on TV or elsewhere. It was just through a single post, which trickled into other posts and mentions. Even celebrities posted because they saw it on Instagram. We never spent a centavo in marketing.”

At the moment, Bagube is reaping the fruits of his labor. But he is clever enough not to be lax because he knows that his brand can be destroyed just as easily as it was noticed. Nonetheless, he’s loving the taste of sweet success.

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