Move over, baseball, there’s a new game in town.
As the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic keep U.S. sports and entertainment venues shuttered and millions of Americans at home, baking is having its moment.
“Baking is the new baseball,”King Arthur Flour co-CEO Karen Colberg told Yahoo Finance. ”It's become a national pastime.”
As countless new homebodies rediscover the therapeutic joys of cooking, Colberg explained that “people are baking a lot. Initially, you're thinking people are pantry-loading; they're kind of fearful, not sure what's going to come. But we're seeing a lot of baking happening too.”
The numbers tell it all: In the United States, for the week ending April 12, sales of yeast were up more than 300 percent from an average week in 2019, according to market research firm Nielsen.
In that same week, sales of baking cocoa and parchment paper had roughly doubled. In France — the baguette capital of the world — sales of flour more than doubled in the month of March versus the comparable time frame last year.
‘We’re at full tilt’
King Arthur Flour’s corporate history dates back almost 300 years, and it’s seeing an unprecedented rush on its own coveted bags of flour. In the last three weeks, demand has tripled over what the company normally expects this time of year.
To meet the surge, King Arthur Flour has its mills running at full capacity, and has even added another mill to the production line. “We are at full tilt,” Colberg said. “We’ve worked with our partners to get to 24/7 production. And I think that customers will continue to see in and out of stocks over the next couple of months as we ramp, because we're foreseeing some sustained demand for a while.”
Like so many companies, King Arthur is scrambling to shift its supply chain. It has plenty of bulk flour in 50 pound bags, especially now that so many restaurants and food service customers are temporarily closed. The trick, however, is getting that flour into smaller retail bags.
“There's plenty of wheat out there,” Colberg told Yahoo Finance.
“But the milling capacity, the bagging capacity is very different for the baker / foodservice business than the retail business,” she said. “And you can't just kind of flip the switch and say, ‘Hey, let's get the five pounders over there,’ unfortunately.”
As the company works to get more flour, yeast and other baking ingredients into the hands of home bakers, King Arthur is feeding their customers’ curiosity with loads of tips and recipes on its website, and a new video series called “The Isolation Baking Show” on Facebook.
“Whether you've never picked up a whisk or you're a professional baker, you're home. And you need something to do,” Colberg said. “(Baking) a huge source of comfort. And it's a creative outlet.”
Lifelong amateur baker Amy Holt has been baking up a storm as she shelters in place in her Cape Cod home with her husband and their 27 year-old daughter.
“It’s comforting. It warms your house and it’s great to have the nice smell in your home,” she said.
“For us, it’s relaxing. It’s something we really enjoy. We do it as a family. There’s a lot of tradition behind some of the things we make,” Holt added.
In the last month, the family has made chocolate babka, corn bread, cranberry and rosemary biscotti with drizzled dark chocolate, jalapeno cheddar soft pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, ginger snaps and more.
Yet it’s been a challenge finding the ingredients, especially as housebound consumers mob grocery stores and stockpile goods. This week, Holt went to three different stores — wearing a face mask and staying a safe six feet from other customers — in search of yeast which she never found.
The grocery store closest to her home hasn’t had flour (or toilet paper) in more than a month. So, on a recent quick trip to Target, she managed to nab two 5-pound bags.
“Sugar, flour and yeast are very difficult to find,” she said. “When you see them, you buy them.”
Karen Colberg, King Arthur Flour co-CEO, was interviewed on Yahoo Finance’s The Final Round, which airs Monday through Friday 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET.
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