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.”
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.