NEW YORK — Together with toilet paper, dried beans and sliced bread, family flour has seen an extraordinary spike of sales since the beginning of March. The surge has forced flour millers to scramble to keep up with orders.
The sudden affinity for family flour also has prompted flour millers and others to wonder whether the 2-, 5-, 10- and even 25-lb bags of newly purchased flour will inspire a surge of home baking or will end up on the back of pantry shelves gathering dust.
While demand for family flour has been declining for years, decades even, data gathered by Chicory, a New York-based tech firm, suggest that hundreds of thousands of consumers are, at a minimum, putting their toe in the water and have begun exploring home baking.
From the first week of March, views of basic homemade bread recipes surged 355%, to 896,215. By the first week of April, the figure had slipped to 660,756 views, but the views were still more than triple the levels at the start of the month.
Even more dramatic was a surge in views of recipes for homemade tortillas, peaking in March at 786,395, up 1,590% from a week earlier.
The surge was most powerful for the most ambitious home bakers — those viewing instructions for how to make your own sourdough starter. Still rising in the week ended April 4, the number of views hit 140,542, up 1,258% from only 10,349 at the start of March. Chicory said that the starter directions leapt from the 543rd most viewed recipe in its network to No. 9.
Chicory attributed some part of the surge in recipe searches to a natural consequence of panic purchases leading many consumers to “need to come up with ways to use up everything that’s packing their pantry.” Difficulty finding packaged bread also may have contributed to a desire to “bulk up their basic cooking and baking skills in order to self-sustain.”
Also contributing to the decision to bake is the large number of consumers officing from home, Chicory said.
“People have more time; particularly those who are out of work or working from home and can monitor their bread for a perfect rise,” the company said.
Chicory, which offers a “Get Ingredients” button on 1,350 recipe websites, including Betty Crocker, helps food companies place ads on websites just as they are composing shopping lists.
“Bread has become the food and recipe of choice for most Americans,” said Joey Petracca, chief operating officer and co-founder of Chicory. “Playing a comforting role in our lives during these unstable times, basic bread and its infinite variations are staple pantry items that offer a sense of normalcy. Homemade and hearty recipes always see a surge during cold, flu and allergy seasons, and we’re seeing the same pattern now as people look for ways to self-soothe. What’s unusual is that this also fits into an emerging trend of basic and scratch recipes as people look to build their cooking and baking skills from the ground up. Bread serves so many purposes and these recipes offer exactly what people are looking for right now.”
According to the Home Baking Association, the seeds of this surge of family flour demand were evident before the coronavirus outbreak. Research conducted in October 2019 by Mintel for the HBA indicated interest in home baking from millennials. Only 8% of this generation “never bake” and 44% at least once a week with 11% (included in the larger figure) saying they bake daily.
The association’s website, homebaking.org, has enjoyed a nice bump in traffic, up 112% over the past week, said Charlene Patton, executive director.
The group’s current president, Courtney Gaine, who also is president of The Sugar Association, said exchanges about baking and recipe sharing on social media have more than doubled in recent weeks and surged 600% over the holiday weekend.
“We’re seeing an uptick in desire to learn as well as resourcefulness,” she said. “Traffic to our ‘Types of Sugar’ page has increased and searches for how to make your own powdered and brown sugar have tripled over the past month.”
Sharon Davis, program director at the HBA, said the association’s website and social media staff have affirmed that home bakers have been elevating their craft beyond the usual cookies, cupcakes, brownies and mug muffins.
“They’re tackling essential daily staples — loaf bread, tortillas, homemade pizza and always popular banana bread,” she said. “Along with our baking bridge goals for career and tech connections, our alliance with family and consumer sciences partners reports they’re assigning ‘adulting 101’ tasks while in distance learning to encourage hands-on food preparation, meal time conversations, and home cleaning to build student’s essential life skills that save finances and also build healthful practices.”