Louisiana offers residents and visitors many unique experiences, maybe none more notorious than Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras season allows the state the opportunity to showcase its culture and heritage in a way few other places can.

Synonymous with Mardi Gras is the delicious king cake – a brioche roll shaped into a ring with white icing and sugars in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and yellow on top. Cinnamon-sugar and often some kind of filling are baked in the ring, and a plastic baby is hidden inside the cake.

Originally, the Louisiana king cake was baked to celebrate the Twelfth Night, but later the cake became popularly associated with Mardi Gras and now serves as a symbol for the Carnival spirit and revelry. The appeal of the king cake as a Mardi Gras novelty not only has helped increase the popularity of Mardi Gras, but its marketability as well.

I’m sure you’ve thought about how delicious king cakes taste, but have you thought about king cakes as a public relations tool?

Picture this. A friend of a Louisianan living up North is sitting in his office, unable to participate in this year’s Mardi Gras festivities. So his Southern friend ships him a King Cake in the mail. The friend takes the cake to his office to share with his co-workers, who are then able to learn about Mardi Gras. They may even go online to research more about Louisiana culture and start planning a future trip.

And just like that, a $20 King Cake became an invaluable promotional tool.

Thousands upon thousands of king cakes are shipped around the world each year, with the bulk of these orders placed in the weeks between King’s Day (Jan. 6) and Mardi Gras.

There are a plethora of bakeries that sell and ship king cakes, but one of the more popular locations is Haydel’s Bakery in New Orleans. Owners estimate that their bakery alone ships 50,000-60,000 king cakes worldwide each year. At approximately $20-$30 apiece, it’s a profitable time for Haydel’s and numerous other businesses that see revenue from Mardi Gras season as approximately 60 percent of their yearly profit.

New Orleans is expecting about 1 million visitors for Mardi Gras 2015. Past studies have pinned the economic impact of Mardi Gras at approximately $144 million in direct benefits and as much as $340 million including indirect benefits. And this year, with gas prices remaining low and the date falling on the federally recognized holiday of President’s Day, revenue could be even greater.

Area hotels were already at 90 to 95 percent capacity a month before the big holiday, and many properties are expecting to sell out for Mardi Gras weekend.

So next time you bite into a delicious king cake, think about the implication that ring-shaped pastry has on Louisiana businesses and its economy. And be careful not to swallow the baby!