Bake

The Riotous Success of King Arthur Baking Company

How the company has been making things work—and fueling our collective sourdough obsession—during this especially difficult year.

August  7, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

It is somewhat difficult to identify the great successes of 2020 (especially given that this year thus far has proven that time is nothing but a construct). But that doesn’t mean that even in the pandemic-fueled last several months, there aren’t individual success stories. One of them, of course, is that everyone you know (or rather, everyone you follow on Instagram), has suddenly become a bonafide home baker. And chances are, it’s thanks to King Arthur Baking Company, who has managed to turn their 2020 into a success of their own.

For King Arthur Baking (whose recent name change from King Arthur Flour is meant to better reflect its commitment to all things baking), this year marks 230 years of operation. Over the last two-plus centuries, the company has become synonymous with tasty baked goods and delightful risen treats. But this year has been a uniquely successful one for the brand under the leadership of co-CEO Karen Colberg.

“On March 14, as stay-at-home orders went into place around the country, sales went through the roof and we quickly worked with our milling and manufacturing partners to increase capacity,” Colberg told me over email. This led to the introduction of the three-pound all-purpose flour bag on the company website, which is nothing short of necessary if you’re going to be making a loaf a week for your carb-craving family. “We continue to experience two to three times more demand than normal,” Colberg added, and there are no signs that the want and need for flour is going anywhere any time soon.

From March to June of this year, King Arthur sold more than double the pounds of flour when compared to the same period in 2019. Similarly, calls to the famous Baker’s Hotline (where experienced bakers will walk you through any question or fiasco you may have) tripled from last year to this year. And it’s not just friendly advice that home bakers are looking for—for folks on the frontlines of the pandemic, baking has become a creative escape. As Colberg told me, “Our Hotline staffers report that calls are longer in duration and consumers are chattier than usual; nurses and healthcare professionals have shared that baking has become an outlet for them to relieve stress.”

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“Not to mention that during the run on flour we all had to see what other brands, some very mysterious had to offer and the difference in texture was significant. I missed KA and my shopping companion looked at me very strangely at my reaction when I saw KA bread flour on the grocery shelves. No more adding bobs mill gluten to mysterious AP flour brands. As annoyed as I was with the loss, I had the opportunity to see what the difference between protein, milling and quality of grains make in a consistent product. ”
— Pastraminator
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In response to the pandemic, Colberg and her team have not only larger-volume versions of their flagship products, but also added to their interactive lineup of content. For example, there’s The Isolation Baking Show, hosted by bakers Jeffrey Hamelman and Gesine Bullock-Prado, which is ready to teach home bakers how to make everything from German pretzels to French bread to good ol’ American muffins.

“Since our on-campus baking school has been shut down, those baker-educators transitioned over to the Baker’s Hotline and our digital engagement team to help with the influx of consumer inquiries,” Colberg noted. That’s led to the rise of additional programming like Bake It Better with Kye, which debunks common baking myths and mistakes, the children-specific Bake For Good, and Bread School with Martin, which has quickly become my go-to for recipes from pain au chocolat to peasant bread. “With the new products we recently launched, our goal is to be a resource to all bakers,” Colberg said. “We want to reach people where they are, whether that’s a first-timer who feels comfortable starting with a simple mix or a long-time baker who is looking to up their sourdough game.”

And while the uptick in baking may be a side effect of many months in quarantine, don’t think of all those homemade banana breads and pizza crusts as a passing trend. “Even before the pandemic, we experienced an increase in baking, as many people found baking as a relaxing activity and something the family could do together not involving screens,” Colberg said. “In particular, sourdough bread has been trending for some time and our sourdough content remains one of the most visited sections on our website” (I’m guilty of contributing). After all, if there’s anything more satisfying than seeing a beautiful homemade boule come out of my own oven, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.

Certainly, King Arthur Baking Company has enjoyed financial success during the last several months, but it’s not just the sales that have kept the King Arthur team going. “The greatest reward has been witnessing our employee-owners come together during this time to ensure our consumers have the products and resources they need,” Colberg told me. And as bakers at home continue to expand their repertoire, the King Arthur team intends to be there every step of the way.

Do you know and love King Arthur Baking's flour? Let us know in the comments.

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Lulu Chang

Written by: Lulu Chang

15 Comments

Gordon August 13, 2020
I am not a fan of sour dough, but King Arthur has really excellent flour for baguette tradition, amongst other baked goods. They have added what some would say exotic dough modifiers, but I use them for many things. They work and they work well. But their flour makes very very tasty bread. Even my friends from France said my baguette tasted excellent and they commented on the flour also. They also said I needed to work on it as it did not look like a tradition, there is a severe learning curve with this bread, but it still tasted excellent.
 
Claire68 August 12, 2020
Have been using only KAB flour since moving to the USA 23 years ago. I shall miss coming to the school in VT this year, would have been my 5 year attending. I spend way too much online and in the store...but who cares, I don’t. I cannot say enough about the customer service....at the beginning of the lock down I had 2 bags of Bread Flour arrive from a different location and both bags split, what a mess. They were not put inside another bag like normal. Within days I got a response and 2 replacement bags sent immediately. Even with all the back orders these arrived very quickly. Never had any problems before. Gradually getting my flour and baking supplies back up to where they were before the lock down. I closed my Home Baking Business for 3 months now gradually opening. Friends said go and use other flour, I wasn’t using cheap nasty products on myself so therefore I would not use them for the business and not driving all over MD to find other products. You can tell a difference, love my Unbleached AP Flour. Thank you.
 
Alexis August 12, 2020
King Arthur Baking is successful because of their model. The hometown, owner/employee kind of model resonates with us, as consumers. Their customer service is amazing, and the product "ain't too shabby," either.
 
Erin August 10, 2020
I ordered my first ever sourdough starter in February, and the timing couldn't have been better. When lockdown began, I was very fortunate to be stocked up on baking supplies and King Arthur's recipes have been a fantastic resource to learn how to make sourdough bread, crackers, pizza, and even crepes. I'm not an experienced bread baker but I've had mostly successes. I'm so impressed by how they've dealt with the challenges of the pandemic! And very, very grateful.
 
Tricia August 8, 2020
Love KAF, sorry, KAB now. I have enjoyed baking now more than ever. It is relaxing! The recipes that come with the KAB “bundles” truly make those bundles foolproof. Thank you!!!
 
Katherine M. August 8, 2020
I learned how to bake yeast bread from KA’s website, blogs and their ask a baker feature. No other flour comes close to KA’s!
 
Marti K. August 7, 2020
My favorite brand. The chocolate chip cookie mix is the best. I add dutch cocoa and nesquick and some chocolate almond butter and I have the best chocolate cookies you can imagine
 
J August 11, 2020
Are you willing to share your proportions?
 
Pastraminator August 7, 2020
Not to mention that during the run on flour we all had to see what other brands, some very mysterious had to offer and the difference in texture was significant. I missed KA and my shopping companion looked at me very strangely at my reaction when I saw KA bread flour on the grocery shelves. No more adding bobs mill gluten to mysterious AP flour brands. As annoyed as I was with the loss, I had the opportunity to see what the difference between protein, milling and quality of grains make in a consistent product.
 
shawn August 7, 2020
There service is horrific. It took King Arthur 6 weeks to refund me on a purchase that was not delivered. It wasn't until I filed a dispute with my bank that they responded and credited my account. I have a regional flour carrier that is by far better.
 
Paula C. August 7, 2020
King Arthur Gluten-free flour is awesome. We just made our own home made gluten free soft pretzels and they were such a treat and so delicious!! Also the gluten free pancake mix makes the most delicious gluten free pancakes and waffles!
 
Beth B. August 7, 2020
I went to the King Arthur store in Vermont, awesome. I always make things from scratch but I tried their mixes for scones and they are great. I love everything they have
 
cmotes August 7, 2020
KA saved us when there was no flour for sale in the Bay Area!
 
Kat S. August 7, 2020
As a baker, New Englander and die-hard KA fan, I was so happy when I could make the drive a few Saturdays ago from Boston to Norwich, VT that I literally cried when I could be "on campus" again. Their products are second to none, their people the best and I am so happy that they exist.
 
HalfPint August 7, 2020
I've known about King Arthur for years, if not decades. They are so responsive and nice. Now if only I can get their bread flour ;)