Earlier this week, 230-year-old King Arthur Flour rebranded as King Arthur Baking Company.
Although the name change had long been contemplated by the venerable CPG brand, it comes amid a particularly interesting time of increased home baking and cooking prompted by the quarantine.
In this interview, King Arthur vice president of marketing Bill Tine discusses the company’s early move into the D2C space, the ongoing pandemic’s impact on production and sales, and King Arthur’s recent return to television advertising.
CPG FYI: How long was the rebrand in the works?
BillTine: The actual process was about 18 months. It had been in the works probably for longer than that. We’d regularly visited the idea.
CPG FYI: Was flour too narrow a positioning?
Tine: Essentially, we wanted to showcase that we were thinking broadly, but also be really clear to our consumers that our commitment to them is as a partner in baking.
CPG FYI: The timing certainly is good, given the spate of at-home cooking occasions.
Tine: As you can imagine, early in March we saw an immediate spike in our sales. Interestingly enough, we saw it almost at the exact same time in our content. Our website started getting an enormous number of visitors compared to normal.
CPG FYI: You folks were early into online selling in the late 1990s, and have put a lot of effort into the digital world. How has that panned out?
Tine: We have a significant D2C business and digital content strategy, so we’ve been in regular contact with our consumers through surveys and one-on-one conversations. We realized early on that people were buying flour and other baking products because they were baking a lot.
Because of that, we were able to think about—as well as commit to—producing product well above our norm for the foreseeable future.Our June [online] sales were 271% higher than last year.
CPG FYI: How has the pandemic affected product innovation?
Tine: We’ve started to sell a three-pound pouch of all-purpose flour. There’s not an issue of wheat availability, but one of the challenges is packing lines. There’s only so many five-pound packing lines. Some flour mills only sell flour by the truckload or by 50-pound bags because they’re focused on the professional business.
We were able to work with one of our partners that had a three-pound line they historically had used for things like baking mixes. Amazingly enough, within a month’s time we were able to start producing and shipping a new, three-pound pouch. That product is only sold direct-to-consumer on our website. We wanted to dedicate all of the five-pound bags to grocery retailers.
CPG FYI: I just saw one of your current TV commercials in which a woman comically pours liquid bleach into a mixing bowl. What’s the rationale for that?
Tine: Many consumers aren’t aware of bleach being in [many flours], despite the product saying “bleached flour.” But more importantly, I think very few are aware of why bleach is added to the product, and why bleach is not added to ours.
The predominant selling point for our flour is our high-level specifications and the quality of the wheat. One of the things that bleach does is allow you to sell a lower-quality wheat. It can whiten the flour to hide imperfections.
CPG FYI: You’ve been big on digital media for a while, but have recently returned to TV. Why?
Tine: The ad that you saw was kind of our first reentry into TV in 15, 20 years. We’re just starting to get back into it. We’ve put a lot of effort into creating engaging digital content that has worked well for us and continues to. But now that we have that really well developed, a nice complement is television spots that can give a little broader message.
CPG FYI: Other CPG brands have been talking about the new buyers they’ve acquired as a result of pantry loading, out-of-stocks and such. Has that been your experience?
Tine: We’ve gained a lot of new users. Online, our new-customer base has grown from 20% of our total customers to 50% of our total customers over the last few months. The new
customers have been twice as likely to come back for a repeat purchase.
I think that’s what really highlights how much baking is going on. People are coming back for a repeat purchase within a month.