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King Arthur Flour Celebrates 225 Years: A History in the Baking

Nov 09, 2015 04:00PM ● By Kirsten Gehlbach
In 1790, Henry Wood began importing European flour to Long Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts. His goal was to provide pure, high-quality flour for residents of the newly formed United States. Now, 225 years later, King Arthur Flour is a baking resource offering top-quality baking products as well as inspiring educational programs backed by the passion and commitment of its dedicated employee–owners.

A Little History

More than 100 years later in 1896, the company Wood founded gave its product a new brand name—King Arthur Flour. The Sands, Taylor & Wood Company proudly displayed mentions of King Arthur Flour and other products everywhere possible, including on company vehicles, as seen in a 1957 photograph at the company’s Massachusetts headquarters. In1984, then-owners Frank and Brinna Sands moved the company from Massachusetts to Norwich, Vermont, where the company is headquartered today.

In 1990, King Arthur Flour established a mail order Baker’s Catalogue, published The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, and mailed its subscription newsletter, called The Baking Sheet, to 126 readers. In 1992, King Arthur Flour opened The Baker’s Store in Norwich for local catalog customers and its ambassadors started visiting schools to share the joys of baking and giving. As the baker base grew, in 1995, King Arthur Flour built a new store in Norwich, a 12-sided post-and-beam building appropriately named Camelot to house The Baker’s Store and a studio for Vermont Public Radio.

100% Employee-Owned

With thoughts of retiring, Frank and Brinna Sands decided to sell the company to their employees and began an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 1996. The company also launched its first website. As the company and its following grew, in 1998 King Arthur Flour established a second location, Avalon, in nearby Hartford, Vermont, for customer service, fulfillment, and product development. Avalon underwent an expansion in 2004 to accommodate the company’s growing workforce. In 2000, the Bakery and Baking Education Center opened next door to Camelot.

Tom Payne, Marketing Director, shares, “One of the most important milestones in our history is becoming 100% employee-owned and more recently becoming a B-Corp and later a Vermont Benefit Corporation.”

He continues, “The primary advantage of being a Benefit Corporation is that we can legally protect our desire that ‘maximum value for stakeholders’ should include things like culture, environmental protection, and employee-ownership status. Employee-ownership means we all literally have a stake in the business. It creates a culture where employees care about strategy and mission and have a voice in how the company is run.”

Kudos for the King

In 2004, The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion won the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook of the Year Award and King Arthur Flour completed ownership transfer to become 100% employee-owned. Three years later, in 2007, King Arthur Flour became a founding B (Beneficial) Corporation, changing its bylaws to reflect its commitment to all stakeholders—including shareholders, business partners, the community, and the environment.

In 2010, King Arthur Flour launched its award-winning line of gluten-free baking mixes; its Life Skills Bread Baking Program taught its 120,000th student; and Baking Education Center classes reached more than 4,600 bakers.

“We’ve become a leading brand in the gluten-free market, having launched new baking mixes and new ingredients for health-conscious consumers looking for flax meal and seed, almond flour, and coconut flour,” explains Tom.

Going forward, Tom says, “After 2011, we have continued to have tremendous growth, adding nearly 100 employees with expanded operations at our Norwich location, and we opened a satellite café on the Dartmouth campus in Hanover.”

What’s next? Tom says the plan is for continued growth, expanding the number of households that use King Arthur Flour, introducing more products in more categories, increasing its online reach through social media, email, and video and creating more opportunities for education with the opening of a second school in 2016. “Plus doing more to improve our B Corp score by giving back and doing more to build community through baking.”

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