The Economics of Kenyan Cupcakes

Sugarpie Cupcakes. Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi’s first cupcake shop demonstrates the power of a rising consumer class — and teaches a lesson about labor in emerging economies, too.

If anyone needed more evidence that Kenya’s economy is on the rise, a sort of confirmation arrived recently — in buttercream and a half dozen flavors that change daily.

Sugarpie Cupcakes in Nairobi has won plenty of fans and local press, attesting to this city’s changing tastes. The expats tend to favor Belgian chocolate, while the Kenyans prefer chai or red velvet, but overall sales have grown fast since the business launched late last year.
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Running the business is no cakewalk — but its vagaries and workarounds reveal a lot about Nairobi’s consumerist aspirations, and the economics that underlie them. A rising number of middle-upper-income Kenyans sees cupcakes as one of many small luxuries they can afford. And some among Kenya’s large, (non)working class see that as something to aspire to.

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