During the coronavirus pandemic, Bill Tine has seen a lot of real commitment.
“I think we’ve had two and a half million people visit our sourdough starter recipe,” Tine, the vice president of marketing for King Arthur Flour, told Food Dive in May. “It’s not hard to bake with sourdough, but it’s certainly a committed baker when they’re maintaining their own sourdough starter.”
And with most Americans spending much of the last several months in their homes, many of them have found the time to grow and maintain a bubbly starter for the tangy yeast-free bread, a process that requires hands-on time for a week or more — let alone the hours to knead, refrigerate, let rise and bake the loaves that starter would make.
Manufacturers making products that run the gamut of baking staples, from flour to spices to mixes, have seen sales go through the roof. And at several grocery stores, the baking aisle can look more like a ghost town, with all-purpose flour, baking powder, yeast and vanilla extract nowhere to be seen.
According to Nielsen, in the 52 weeks that ended May 23, Americans have spent $5.15 billion on baking staples — flour, baking powder, baking soda, pie crusts and yeast. This is a 12% increase over the same time last year. Consumers have spent the most on flour, with sales nearing $1 billion in the last 52 weeks. In March of this year, consumers spent 126% more on flour than last year. In April, they spent 105% more than in 2019.
But it’s not just the baking staples seeing more sales. Baking mixes are also benefiting from the pandemic, with sales in the segment at nearly $2.6 billion in the 52 weeks that ended May 23 — a 13.4% increase from the previous year.
Rebecca Hamilton, a professor at Georgetown University who teaches classes on consumer behavior, told Food Dive that with all of the uncertainty and fear surrounding the pandemic, it makes sense that consumers have gone back to their kitchens.
“That’s going to increase consumers’ interest in doing things that make them feel safe and comforted, and absolutely baking is one of those activities,” Hamilton said.
Baking has always been seen as a source of comfort — or at least a source of comfort foods, with the kitchen as the gateway to many treats. It is a way families connect, since most schools have been closed since around spring break. Children enjoy baking with their parents, and baking can be used to teach basic fractions. Megan Pence, senior brand manager for baking brands at B&G Foods, who has worked with the Clabber Girl baking powder brand since before it was under the company’s umbrella, said baking is also extremely scientific, with measuring, mixing and baking needing to be precisely calibrated in order to get the best results.
As people can venture out of their homes to get something to eat, many have wondered if we will remain a nation of bakers.
“I think values have changed,” Dan Anglemyer, chief operating officer of Hometown Food Company told Food Dive. “People consider what’s important, and I think spending time with family and sharing meals together is something that is going to bring people back together. We’re hopeful that this isn’t a fad, but it’s a trend, and it’s something that people will continue after this because I think it’s just such a wholesome activity.”
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