Fourth in a series of posts about US brands that are thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around the end of March, a couple of weeks into California’s shelter-in-place directive, I used up the last of my flour on a batch of Marion Cunningham’s raw apple muffins—a recipe I’d first tasted, years earlier, at Cunningham’s house in Walnut Creek, where I’d gone to interview her. (I’ve forgotten what story I was writing, but I’ll never forget the warm muffins and strong coffee she served me. As I was leaving, she gave me her well-worn and annotated copy of The Breakfast Book, which I still use.)
When I ventured out to buy more flour, all of the shelves were bare. I’d had the bad luck to run out of provisions during a pandemic baking boom; flour mills had been caught short. I was late to this realization: In early March, King Arthur Flour—the oldest flour company in America and the country’s fourteenth-oldest manufacturer—had noticed a 600 percent jump in grocery-store sales of their products virtually overnight. “It was as if half of America had decided all at once that they needed to bake. A lot,” writes David H. Freedman in an engrossing story for Medium about the King Arthur company.
Finally found some!
The problem wasn’t supply—there was plenty of wheat available—but logistics. Until the pandemic, home baking had been in decline for years; flour mills like King Arthur stayed in business by supplying restaurants and commercial bakeries, which bought in huge quantities and which were now shut down.
Freedman’s story reveals how King Arthur quickly adapted to meet the new market demands. It’s also full of other interesting tidbits. For one, the company has been employee owned since 1996. For another, employees call the Vermont headquarters “Carbohydrate Camelot.”
But the story doesn’t delve into the history and significance of the company name. So I did my own investigation.