Jordan Rondel was three years into bringing her small business, The Caker — a sophisticated line of pre-made cake mixes — from New Zealand, where she launched it in 2010, to the United States when she got an unexpected notification in her Instagram inbox from none other than Chrissy Teigen. The model and cookbook author tagged The Caker in a Story in February, praising Rondel’s flourless dark chocolate gold leaf cake. “SOOOOO GOOD,” Teigen wrote, posting a photo of the half-eaten cake with her husband, John Legend, in the background.
In a friendly reply, Rondel thanked Teigen, who owns her own cookware and recipe brand Cravings, for her support and threw out a long-shot offer to collaborate. To her surprise, Teigen accepted, and Rondel began a months-long process of working with Teigen’s team to develop a carrot cake mix for a Cravings x The Caker collaboration, which was released in September.
But last week, Teigen launched her own line of pre-made bake mixes, which seems to have been quietly developed in the background at the same time her team was discussing the collaboration with The Caker. When Rondel saw the product advertised online, a few things looked all too familiar to the small business owner. Expressing her disappointment, Rondel tells Rolling Stone she believes Teigen took direct inspiration from her small business after working together.
“They could have taken inspiration from us from afar and not worked with us at all,” Rondel explains. “We worked so closely and so hard and invested so much in our product together that it just stings a bit more now.”
In a statement, a rep for Cravings said, “We are so proud of the now sold-out Cravings x The Caker Spiced Carrot Cake Kit with Salted Caramel. It’s disheartening and surprising to see The Caker’s recent social posts and commentary regarding our products … In May 2022, The Caker team was made fully aware that Cravings would be launching a line of baking mixes in the Fall following our one-off collaboration. We absolutely did not copy their packaging. We wish nothing but the absolute best for The Caker and their business, which was the spirit behind our collaboration.”
Teigen has steadily been building a mini-food empire under her Cravings brand since 2016 with the release of her first cookbook after years of the model discussing her love of food and sharing recipes with her now 38 million Instagram followers. Today, she has a website that hosts a food blog, family cooking videos, and an online store where customers can buy Teigen’s line of cookware, bakeware, dishes, and accessories.
Recently, Teigen has begun developing her own food products, too, introducing a range of seasonings and spices last spring. And last week, Teigen rolled out her latest venture: three pre-made bake mixes created from some of her most popular recipes, including a buttermilk mochi pancake and waffle mix; a salted white Macadamia nut cookie mix, and a chocolate chip banana bread mix.
“Having a very emo day today — I can’t believe these are finally out in the world,” Teigen wrote to celebrate the launch.
Soon after the announcement, the official Cravings Instagram account was filled with comments that called out the similarities between Teigen’s new line and The Caker’s products. “Didn’t you just promote a collaboration for a similar product with an independent, woman owned business? Did you tell The Caker you were planning to exploit her work,” one asked.
“Saw this coming from a mile away,” another wrote. “Everything you collab on somehow becomes your own business opportunity to exploit & profit off of. Yay! How positively embarrassing.”
Rondel had also been growing her own cult-like following over the years, starting with the launch of her first store in her hometown of Auckland in 2010 (she now has a second store in LA.). Growing up baking alongside her grandparents, Rondel channeled that love into opening her own cakery that focused on homestyle cakes that retained a boutique bakery appearance.
The shop grew in popularity, and Rondel secured her own small commercial kitchen as well as a publishing deal for a cookbook. Eventually, she developed her popular cakes into pre-made kits, meaning anyone could pick up a box and whip up a matcha cherry cake or coconut raspberry lime leaf confection.
Rondel moved to Los Angeles in September 2019 with her sister and business partner Anouk to bring her small business to a larger market. There were only a few major competitors: the one-dimensional Betty Crocker and Pillsbury grocery store mixes. Through business connections, word-of-mouth, and social media, The Caker had secured deals by fall 2020 with Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters to sell the mixes in the mega-retailers’ stores.
In February of this year, Teigen’s message of support and agreement to collaborate was a sign to Rondel that things were heading in the right direction. Soon after Teigen reached out, the two teams began sorting the best ideas for a collaboration. The idea started as a giveaway and the development of a recipe together, according to Rondel. But Teigen, she claims, wanted a larger partnership and pushed for Cravings and The Caker to create a custom cake kit, ultimately landing on a carrot cake — the flavor of Teigen and Legend’s wedding cake in 2013.
By mid-March, The Caker had sent out samples of the recipe to Teigen’s Cravings team, who sent back notes and feedback, according to Rondel. But after The Caker was close to getting a recipe finalized and had sent out a second round of samples in mid-April, there was “radio silence” from Teigen’s team.
The Cravings’ team wouldn’t reply until May, apologizing for the delay and informing Rondel of structural changes within the company, and they needed additional time to regroup internally and would circle back. Two weeks later, Cravings scheduled a call with The Caker.
“When they came back to us, they said, ‘I’m so sorry. We’re releasing our own line,’” Anouk says. The collaboration was off.
At no point prior to that call did anyone at Cravings inform Rondel that Teigen was launching her own pre-made mixes, Rondel claims. It was only after months of back-and-forth — and The Caker sending samples during the development stage — that they were made aware that Teigen was developing her own line. (Rolling Stone has reviewed email communications between Cravings and The Caker corroborating Rondel’s statements, including detailing the depth of information The Caker provided Cravings with before the collaboration was called off.)
Based on the timeline and the late-minute notice to The Caker about the launch, it raises a question from The Caker team if Teigen’s idea of starting her own line of pre-made mixes originated around the same time that she started discussions with The Caker. “It’s hard to not think that way,” Rondel admits.
After investing months of time and money only to see the endeavor called off, the sisters appealed to Teigen with a heartfelt email asking to continue with the collaboration. “She was actually really sweet and replied back herself and said, ‘I hear what you guys are saying; let’s continue with the collaboration,’” Rondel recalls.
With Teigen back on board with the collaboration, the rest of the process went smoothly, Rondel says, and she participated in a joint photoshoot with Teigen and Legend. The spiced carrot cake was released in mid-September to rave reception, Rondel says.
Behind the scenes, Rondel claims to have put agreements in place with Cravings to ensure the two lines would have stark differences, such as price points and flavors offered. (Originally, Cravings had wanted to release a carrot cake mix, Rondel says, but she pushed back since they had already developed the spiced carrot cake with salted caramel recipe.)
But when Teigen’s line of bake mixes was finally rolled out in late October — just six weeks after their collaboration was released — Rondel says she still was disappointed, mainly with Teigen’s creative decisions in regard to packaging. Both boxes feature an editorialized flash snapshot of the product set against a stark backdrop.
In a statement, a Cravings representative said, “Images posted on social media by The Caker team compared the front of our box and the back of their own. The front of their packaging is different from the photographic approach we took, with their design tending to be a solid, bold color, which is actually a sleeve rather than the traditional box style we have used.”
“I just looked at it and said, ‘shoot,’” Rondel says. “Clearly, they had a whole team of designers, it just seems a bit lazy to me that with the whole team behind them, which we don’t have, that they could have come up with something just a little bit different.”
Rondel concedes that Cravings stuck to the agreements they had in place, with Teigen’s line priced at $10 per box, compared to The Caker’s $25 price tag. Initially, Rondel says she wasn’t planning on addressing Teigen’s line, but the show of support from her customers made her speak out about the growing controversy.
More importantly, Rondel believes her experience is a teachable moment for small businesses that partner with a larger company, influencer, or celebrity. “The bigger story here is less so about what Cravings or Chrissy Teigen might have done to The Caker, it’s more so how the ‘Big Guy’ can stomp on the small guy so easily and walk away with more rewards than the small guy did in the beginning,” Rondel says. But perhaps serving as the icing on the cake. Rondel negotiated a deal with Erewhon to sell The Caker in the hip Los Angeles grocery chain that has developed its own cult-like following. “I’m trying to look on the bright side and see [Cravings] as a healthy competition; maybe the elevated cake mix market needs a bit more attention,” Rondel adds. “Maybe, in the long run, it will help us.”