How King Arthur Baking is preparing for the holidays after its pandemic rise
King Arthur Baking Company is the new name for the flour marketer that rolled out an updated brand during the busiest time in its 230-year history.
King Arthur Flour, as it was known for decades, changed its moniker to King Arthur Baking Co. in July. The move, says VP of Marketing Bill Tine, was 18 months in the making and just so happened to come after the coronavirus pandemic began and people were spending more time at home—making sourdough starters, cinnamon roll and banana bread.
“It felt like weekly that we were wondering how, if, we should make this change,” Tine says on the latest edition of the “Marketer’s Brief” podcast.
King Arthur Baking’s team decided the name update was more relevant given the increased interest in the employee-owned brand and in baking overall. “Baking seems to be taking the country by storm,” says Tine.
Flour sales spiked 154% in March and April versus the same period last year, according to a Profitero analysis of Amazon sales. The firm found that flour sales in September and October were down 48% compared to that March-April period, yet were still up 80% from a year earlier.
In October, King Arthur launched a campaign that draws on research conducted before the pandemic—that baking has the power to bring people together. The spot was shot during the pandemic and feels more poignant than it would have without the crisis keeping people separated. It shows bakers kneading dough and measuring ingredients while singer Ashley Nguyen DeWitt sings a song written by Alana Da Fonseca with lyrics including “Don’t it feel like the end” and “We will rise again.”
When the pandemic hit, plenty of food marketers saw a rapid rise in sales of products including cereal, canned soup and frozen foods. When it came to King Arthur’s products, “very little of the purchasing was happening for pantry loading or stockpiling,” says Tine. “Most of it matched up to the amount of increased baking we were seeing. And that really showed that it was going to be a very sustained level of increased sales.”
The company added packaging lines and shifts to meet the demand. It began selling three-pound bags of all-purpose flour and now sells eight-pound bags of all-purpose flour and bread flour online for bakers who rapidly deplete the standard five-pound versions. Other new products include a zero-carb, zero-calorie baking sugar alternative, keto wheat flour, a “00” pizza flour and single-serve cups of brownies and cookies.
Sales heading into the holiday season are still above year-ago levels, but not at the peaks they were earlier the pandemic. Tine’s own baking parallels how people have cut, but not eliminated, pandemic baking. Early on, he made pan pizza and tortillas twice a week. Now, he makes two loaves of rosemary bread weekly, and tries to limit chocolate chip cookie baking sessions with his daughter “to every other week,” he says.
Spending more on marketing, media
King Arthur, one of Ad Age’s Hottest Brands of 2020, has increased its marketing and media budget a bit. It pulled back from performance marketing, which wasn’t necessary with the sharp lift in sales, instead pushing ahead with content development, which has continued.
"The Power of Baking” campaign includes a mix of marketing including social spots; out-of-home ads in Austin, Boston, Denver and Seattle; and sharing bakers’ stories, including some of those in the commercial, in videos and blog posts. King Arthur worked with cultural strategy agency DCX Growth Accelerator on the campaign, along with consultant Alaina Paciulli on media and Centro on digital.
King Arthur has done tie-ins with adjacent brands including SAF yeast, a brand it sells on its site. It also has a partnership with egg marketer Vital Farms, a upcoming sweepstakes with high-end chocolate chip maker Hu Kitchen, and recently ran a sweepstakes with pizza oven maker Ooni, says Tine.