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Inside the Flour Company Supplying America’s Sudden Baking Obsession



When my daughter requested I buy King Arthur unbleached flour, I didn't know why, but the store was completely out. The shelf was labeled, and there was a large empty space for the product. While I had heard of the brand, I didn't know anything about it because I am not a bread baker. But the US suddenly became a nation of home bread bakers in March. That's why King Arthur co-CEO Karen Colberg was shocked in early March when she saw that the company's sales had shot up 600%.  

When Meaders Ozarow and her husband started an artisan bakery called the Empire Baking Company in Dallas 27 years ago, neither of them knew all that much about baking. But they got a piece of advice from a successful baker friend back East: Stick with King Arthur; it was the only major U.S. flour brand that approached Europe’s higher standards. “We tried switching once to save money,” says Ozarow. “But our head baker started complaining right away that he wasn’t getting a consistent rise, and the color was off. That wasn’t good, because people buy bread with their eyes.” They turned to King Arthur and haven’t looked back.

King Arthur’s pitch — its high quality — is basically the same one the company began with when it was founded in 1790 in Boston as an importer of European flour. When it switched to milling its own American wheat in the 1820s, it took more care than its major competitors throughout the manufacturing process, from selecting prime wheat, to milling only the heart of the wheat’s “berries,” to leaving the natural creamy color unbleached. It even eschewed the addition of dough-stiffening bromate. The company also tightly controls and specifies to a decimal place (in prominent numbers right on the front of the package) the precise protein content of each its flours, a key factor in a baked good’s rise. Though all the extra pains carry a significant price premium of about 25% over its closest competitors, the payoff by most accounts is a more consistent, predictable, and appealing result in baking, particularly with bread.

The executives at King Arthur knew they had to deliver more flour, but couldn't skimp on quality, since that's what they had going for them. Read about how the small company with deep roots is reacting to its sudden popularity at Marker. -via Nag on the Lake


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