When several states implemented shelter-in-place orders in March, consumers started looking for new activities they could do while spending more time at home; baking piqued the interest of thousands. Global searches for the term “sourdough” grew 325% over the last year, according to Exploding Topics, and baking ingredients company King Arthur Flour reported a 2,000% year-over-year increase of online flour sales in March.
While at-home bakers have turned to a variety of recipes during the coronavirus pandemic, sourdough has overwhelmingly captured consumers' attention, especially on social media. The bread is unique and more complex because it involves the natural fermentation of bread via a starter, rather than the use of active dry yeast. In response to the demand for sourdough, the Park City Culinary Institute launched a virtual sourdough bread baking class via Zoom.
Sourdough “is all over the place, so we decided to see if anyone was interested in learning a little more about the science behind it,” said Evan Francois, corporate chef at the Salt Lake City culinary school.
The classes were very successful with participants ranging from people who already have culinary certification from Park City Culinary Institute to baking beginners who were looking for a challenge, Francois added.
“If you can make sourdough, you can probably do everything else -- it’s very temperamental, it’s time-consuming, it’s quite a bit different from normal breadmaking… it’s at the top of the list to cross off if you want to say ‘I know how to make bread,’” he said about why the class attracted so many people at differing skill levels. He added sourdough was likely popular to make when stay-at-home orders began because dry yeast was difficult to find at grocery retailers when coronavirus-related stockpiling of ingredients began.
Even as states lift lockdown orders for retailers and foodservice businesses, many consumer packaged goods companies are expecting consumers to continue staying in and prioritizing their health, which begs the question, how are these businesses keeping up with consumers’ interest in home baking?
CPG companies step up beyond product offerings
Consumer packaged goods manufacturers have been at the forefront of the home baking trend because these brands are equipped to supply consumers with both products and resources. The websites for General Mills’ Pillsbury and Betty Crocker brands have seen daily traffic increase by 100% with certain recipes boosted 300% to 400% compared to last year, according to Kelsey Roemhildt, corporate communications manager at General Mills.
The company’s baking and flour products have seen significant increases during the past few months, but Roemhildt also reports that General Mills’ supply chain has worked to meet demand during this time and collaborated with retail partners to create efficiencies and provide consumers with the baking products they are looking for.
“We’re also seeing recipe searches surging, for everything from how to use leftovers to baking bread,” Roemhildt added. “People that weren’t cooking or baking before are learning new tips and tricks.”
General Mills also pivoted its brand marketing campaigns to address this home baking trend. Pillsbury adjusted its focus to offering content and recipes that are meant to be made as a family or to teach children how to bake. Betty Crocker launched an educational social media series called “Mix It Up” for millennials and Generation Z consumers that enjoy baked goods but may not know how to cook or bake.
Bakeries get creative with lockdown solutions
Even though many foodservice businesses across the US are closed to dine-in customers or are operating at limited capacity, bakeries have created innovative ways to connect with customers while they are baking at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
West Chester, Pa., bakery La Baguette Magique was selling par-baked baguettes that customers could pick up and take home to finish baking. This type of menu item feeds interest in at-home baking while still providing a revenue source for bakeries during coronavirus lockdown orders.
Minneapolis bistro and bakery Bellecour also created an innovative way to offer customers its baked goods while contributing to the home baking trend. For three weeks in April, the bakery offered kits for making crepe cake, its top-selling menu item. The kit included 15 crepes and chantilly cream to layer over one another, as well as fresh berries.
“The whole concept behind it was to create something to do with your family quarantined at home together,” said Diane Moua, James Beard Award-nominated executive pastry chef at Bellecour. She added that the kits were extremely popular, but the assembly required a lot of work, so the kitchen pivoted to making ice cream and cookie dough, which consumers can take home to bake.
Will the home baking trend last?
Consumer behavior has changed since the coronavirus pandemic hit the US, and if people find new hobbies such as baking during stay-at-home orders, those will likely continue when consumers have the time and occasions to bake.
Bellecour is considering bringing back the crepe cake kits for the winter holiday season, often a time when some may be seeking at-home activities to do together, according to Moua. And Francois said he thinks that even when more businesses reopen, many consumers will remain wary of going out while coronavirus continues to affect the US.
“I think people just want to be doing something at home and learning something new; having a creative outlet is great for people right now,” said Francois.
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