NORWICH, VT. — While companies and consumers alike have been caught off-guard by the coronavirus (COVID-19) as its effects ripple through the economy, many companies have put together action plans to adapt to the new circumstances of the pandemic. King Arthur Flour, a baking ingredient and supply business with a history going back more than 300 years, has changed its business model to take this crisis in stride and help consumers in need.
The Vermont-based company offers a wide variety of white, whole wheat, gluten-free, organic and grain-free flours under the King Arthur Flour brand, as well as a line of baking mixes under the Essential Goodness brand and two varieties of single-serve dessert cups.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, King Arthur Flour has launched a community aid program called For Goodness Bake, in which King Arthur Flour directly purchases bread and other baked foods from its customers and distributes the products to food pantries, homeless populations, unemployed foodservice workers, and others who need it. Outreach by the company has expanded to include educational resources and social media projects, including Martin Bakes at Home, a father and son baking series viewable on Facebook.
King Arthur Flour also has been successful in shifting its labor force that would normally see a decline in work during the pandemic toward new tasks that are in high demand. The Café Sous Chef, out of work since the closing of the cafe while it mulls options for “a limited menu for pick-up/takeout,” has been shifted to helping with daily takeout meals, organizing food deliveries, and coordinating food drops for the local food shelf program. Many employees have begun sewing hundreds of cloth masks for health care workers and essential workers at King Arthur Flour facilities, according to the company.
“It’s hard to imagine the world before COVID-19, yet we are deeply aware of how it has changed,” said Karen Colberg and Ralph Carlton, co-chief executive officers at King Arthur Flour. “As we navigate in these uncertain times, our north star remains our vision to inspire and share the joy of baking, building stronger and healthier communities. Community is a word you hear a lot. It speaks to connections, to support, to togetherness. There cannot be a more important time than now to be coming together to do all that we can to help one another, our families, our neighbors, and our communities.”
King Arthur Flour also has taken steps to address flour shortages at grocery stores, including ramping up production by partnering with another mill to meet demand. The company also has instituted temporary limits on the quantity of products a person can purchase at a time to two, while shifting production to replenish items that are in higher demand. King Arthur Flour also will allow for the backordering of items that are anticipated to be back in stock.
The company also is pivoting its shipping strategy in response to affected national carriers dealing with the fallout of COVID-19. King Arthur Flour has suspended shipments to international locations, including Canada, as well as next-day and overnight shipping options to “streamline workflows.”
The biggest shift in King Arthur Flour’s shipping patterns has been a transition to a “ship complete” model, where orders don’t leave warehouses until all of the customer’s purchased items are in stock, reducing the amount of deliveries necessary to complete a customer’s order.
“Doing this prevents split orders, reducing both the total number of packages being generated within our system and the overall length of time it takes to get the bulk of orders out the door,” the company said. “Customers who successfully place orders for items which don’t ship right away aren’t in danger of losing those items if they later go out of stock on our website. Rather, a hold for those items is created in our system at the time of the order to ensure they’re available when all items are ready to ship together.”
Other shipping changes made include additional warehouse shifts to keep up with increased demand and the addition of an extra “fulfillment partner” to process and deliver shipping orders.
While seismic in nature, King Arthur Flour stressed that the changes are only temporary in response to the pandemic, and the company plans to “reintroduce normal operations and programs once we’re confident this time of heightened risk has passed.”