For any baker or chef—whether they be a professional, hobbyist, or anywhere in between—flour is a pantry staple. Flour is a dominating ingredient in many of our favorite foods, from cakes and cookies to pastas and breads. While flour creates these equally delicious foods, however, the flour itself isn’t always created equally in terms of sustainability. King Arthur Baking Company stands out against the rest of the competition for their sustainable practices—both for the planet and the people. Originally founded over two centuries ago in 1790 (though not adopting its current royal name until 1896), the King Arthur Baking Company has stood the test of time by adapting to their consumers’ needs. And most recently, those consumer needs have shifted towards more sustainably and ethically run companies. King Arthur and their Unbleached All-Purpose Flour meet these needs as a steward in agriculture transparency and founding member of the Benefit Corporation (B Corp).
The two ingredients found in King Arthur All-Purpose Flour are unbleached hard red wheat flour and malted barley flour. These flours, along with every other product from King Arthur, are sourced from non-GMO fields in the United States. Sourcing all of their ingredients from within the US greatly minimizes the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by avoiding overseas travel. The sustainability and health impacts of GMOs is a contentious topic. In some regards, genetic modification can be used to increase the efficiency of crop production, thus cutting down on unsustainable water and land use. On the other hand, GMOs have been created in the past specifically for herbicide resistance, leading to an increased use of ecologically disruptive herbicides. King Arthur’s choice to use non-GMO sources for their products demonstrates a great concern for the effect of those GMOs on the both the people and the planet.
Another notable sustainability and food quality effort from King Arthur is that all of their products are unbleached and unbromated. Bleaching and bromating is a common practice in flour processing to strengthen and whiten the flour, mostly just for aesthetic purposes. Potassium bromate, the compound typically used for bromating, has been linked to genetic disruptions and cancers in many animals, which could be very harmful to wildlife. The bleaching of the flour greatly contributes to its carbon footprint and uses toxic chemicals such as chlorine oxide. By not giving in to these harmful practices, potentially at the cost of processing efficiency or aesthetics, King Arthur has demonstrated their commitment to providing high quality products to their consumers while also incorporating sustainable practices.
In addition to the flour itself, the product is packaged in a paper bag. King Arthur has stated that they aren’t able to use recycled materials in this packaging because it comes in direct contact with the flour, but the bag itself is recyclable. Additionally, King Arthur uses 100% recycled materials in the boxes for some of their other products. While these efforts are impressive steps for sustainability, I would like to see them advertise the recyclability of their packaging more and incorporate even more zero-waste principles. For example, they could include information on how to recycle the packaging directly on the packaging itself. Another sustainable option they could offer is reusable packaging that consumers could have re-filled.
King Arthur’s sustainable practices start long before the actual processing and manufacturing of the flour, on the farms. King Arthur has a Supplier Code of Conduct in which they lay out the expectations for their wheat suppliers, including worker rights and supporting the sustainability of the environment. From the website, it’s not exactly clear how supplier compliance to this code of conduct is monitored or enforced, and the description of environmental policy is vague. However, having a code of conduct that outlines these values as important to King Arthur is a strong start. Going forward, I would like to see King Arthur provide a more detailed outline of these environmental and sustainability expectations for their suppliers.
In addition to their Supplier Code of Conduct, King Arthur also has a partnership with Farmer Direct, a cooperative with the goals of incorporating sustainability in farming, increasing traceability from farm to flour, and ensuring fair profit for farming families. King Arthur staff have visited some of their supplier farms to learn more about the process of wheat farming and the people behind it. They’ve also emphasized the sustainable practices of some of their suppliers, such as dry-land practices to cut down on water usage for irrigation. This, overall, shows a commitment to sustainability in every step of creating their product. However, as just a consumer, it is still difficult to get information on where exactly King Arthur is sourcing its flour beyond just a few products. I would love to see King Arthur expand this traceability and transparency from farm to flour into some of their other products as well, including the All-Purpose Flour.
King Arthur Flour has demonstrated their commitment to both environmental and social sustainability. As a founding member of B Corp, King Arthur is held to their high standards in social and environmental sustainability and transparency. The company has been 100% employee-owned since 2004, demonstrating how King Arthur cares for its employees and fosters a genuine interest in the company from employees. King Arthur Flour further displayed their dedication to sustainability by recently creating a Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability position on their team, which focuses on a “holistic approach to sustainability.” Additionally, King Arthur participates in the 1% for the Planet initiative, in which 1% of sales from their whole wheat flours is donated to nonprofits tackling sustainability issues. Finally, King Arthur’s website even features a sustainability blog (though it’s not very active, with only 5 posts since 2010). Even though it’s not the most active blog, it is very telling of King Arthur’s emphasis on sustainability as a core part of their company.
Through my research into King Arthur Flour, I’ve found that every nook and cranny of their website has some mention of sustainability—whether it’s social, environmental, or economic. For King Arthur and its employees, sustainability isn’t just a side mission to appease consumers—sustainability is the guiding force they lead their company by. Down the entire product line from the farm, to the processing, to the final product, King Arthur has demonstrated a commitment to supporting not only their suppliers, employees, and consumers, but also the planet. While there is always room for improvement—such as offering refillable packaging and being more transparent about what their sustainability standards are for their suppliers—King Arthur Baking Company has showcased their dedication to sustainability and their constant desire to improve. So rejoice, fellow bakers! With King Arthur All-Purpose Flour, we can continue enjoying our cakes and cookies and breads without the guilt of supporting unsustainable businesses on our backs.
Product Link: https://shop.kingarthurbaking.com/items/king-arthur-unbleached-all-purpose-flour-5-lb