WASHINGTON DC (Agencies): Lots of time spent at home during the pandemic has brought out the inner baker in many of us. Just turn to the numbers for proof: King Arthur Baking Company sold over 156 million pounds of flour in 2020 — a 58% increase over 2019.
But will that baking boom continue now that things are slowly getting back to normal?
“Many months ago, we were seeing three times the volume that we would typically see,” King Arthur Baking Company’s co-CEO Karen Colberg told Yahoo Finance Live. While things have slowed a bit from the torrid pace of demand at the height of the pandemic, Colberg said “we are still seeing baking at levels of about 25% to 30% over the prior year, and we are excited for what it means for our future.”
Bread baking emerged the big winner during quarantine — especially sourdough bread. It was the number one recipe on the King Arthur Baking Company’s website, where searches for sourdough recipes shot up 460%.
While this reporter indulged in baking coconut cake and double chocolate fudge brownies during quarantine, Colberg said top searches on the company’s website were pizza, banana bread and cookies.
Their surprise hit of 2020 was the company’s Better Cheddar Cheese Powder, which saw a 152% increase year-over-year.
At the height of the pandemic, baking products were nearly as hard to find on store shelves as toilet paper.
Colberg admits “we disappointed a lot of customers early on in the pandemic in terms of not being able to be in stock, both in our direct-to-consumer business, as well as the grocery store shelf.” But she says supply finally caught up with demand around the holidays and continues to be strong. In July 2020, the 230-year-old privately-held company underwent a re-branding, modernizing its logo and changing its name from King Arthur Flour to King Arthur Baking Company, to more accurately reflect its full range of products.
The company’s customer engagement also hit a record high in 2020. Its Baker’s Hotline experienced a 43% increase in calls and the company embraced social media.
“We put a tremendous amount of effort into pivoting in the past 12 months to create content that is helping people learn how to do new things, as well as just putting recipes out there really quickly so that people can learn how to bake,” she said.
“That’s probably one of the biggest learnings for us in the pandemic, was that we could do that, and we could do it quickly.”
The pandemic delayed some new product innovations which finally hit store shelves late last year including healthier options like keto flour and a baking sugar alternative that’s zero calories and zero carbs. “We’re really seeing them take off in the first couple of months of this year,” said Colberg.
While we all may be spending less time in the kitchen once the pandemic is behind us, Colberg remains bullish on baking, and predicts sales will remain 20%-30% above pre-COVID 19 levels.
“I think baking brought a lot of comfort to people, as well as an activity,” she said, “and it’s grown into a hobby.”