Meet the mix masters!

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These ladies have a secret.

Actually, a secret ingredient. MANY secret ingredients…

Want to know why they’re smiling?

Because every day, the ladies pictured above – Marie Amell and Kris Barry – join the rest of King Arthur’s manufacturing team to blend and pack the “secret” ingredients that go into our King Arthur Flour mixes.

Mixes that make sublimely delicious treats like these Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies.

How does a King Arthur mix go from sweet dream to reality?

First, our test kitchen bakers come up with an idea. Say, the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. One that occupies that perfect middle ground between soft and crunchy. A cookie with buttery, brown-sugary flavor, loaded with chunks of chocolate as well as both bittersweet and semisweet chips.

The bakers develop a recipe, then bake, taste, tweak, bake, taste… till they’ve got the perfect formula.

Which is then handed off to the product development team.

Meet our product development team! Here, Liz Fairley and Molly Delaney check out sources for chocolate chips. Their goal? A chip with perfect balance between superior taste and “meltability,” at a reasonable price.

Prices on ingredients are constantly changing, not only season to season, but often week to week; keeping the cost of mixes at a reasonable level can be a challenge. Liz, Molly, Brook Stewart, and Sarah Prunk are constantly searching for new or additional sources for the hundreds of ingredients that go into our mixes, as well as the products we sell here online.

Next, the all-important (and oh-so-enjoyable) taste testing. Sarah (r), who heads up our ingredients team, offers a sample of new chips to Sue Gray (l), our mix maven. Sue has a superior palate; if there’s even a hint of off-flavor, she’ll pick it up and reject the chips.

Once the mix of ingredients is perfected, the recipe is scaled up to manufacturing size (think hundreds of pounds of flour), and the formula sent to our manufacturing team.

Time to make the cookies! Travis Benson enters Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies onto the daily schedule.

It all starts with the flour… lots and lots of Sir Galahad, which is the 50-pound-bag version of the King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour you find at your supermarket.


Kate Clark’s in charge of driving her forklift around our warehouse to gather the necessary ingredients. First, the flour…

…then the sugars, and the leavening. Then she goes up top, for chocolate chips and chunks.

Once Kate has delivered the ingredients, Peter Vella takes over.

Peter and Travis weigh sugar into a bucket, sifting it through a strainer to make sure it’s lump-free.

While Peter and A.J. measure and weigh, Jered Condon gets the mixer ready, vacuuming out all traces of any previous mixes.

Jered puts all the cookie dough ingredients into the mixer. Here he’s sifting superfine brown sugar. Again – we want to make sure your mix is absolutely perfect, which means no lumps.

Jered has a bird’s-eye view of the manufacturing area from his perch up above.

Once the mix’s dry ingredients are thoroughly combined, they funnel into a hopper, which then fills bags, one by one.

Martha Marchetti grabs one of the filled bags and moves it to the next process–

Packaging. A bag of chocolate chips and chunks and a bag of dry mix need to go into this box.

The day I photographed this process, the team was trying something new with their equipment. Here Woody Woodsworth and Dan Krawiec discuss what might go wrong. Looks like a surgical consultation before a major operation, doesn’t it?

Success! It’s working just like it’s supposed to.

Woody grabs each box as it comes off the line, checking to make sure it’s in perfect condition: no rips, no scrapes, no crumpled corners.

Mixes are inserted into boxes…

…and Woody and Dan stack the boxes on pallets. When the pallet’s full, it’ll be handed over to the restock team, which will load it onto its designated shelf in the fulfillment area.

We’re almost ready to start selling this batch of chocolate chip cookie mixes. But first, it has to undergo one last test – it’s most important one yet.

Does it work? Does it taste good?

MaryJane, my fellow blogger and test baker, walks through the customer experience.

“OK, I just got this mix. What do I do? Are the directions clear? Does it come together like it says it will?”

Let’s find out.

First step: beat 10 tablespoons of butter till soft.

Next, beat in half the cookie mix.

Beat in 1 egg…

…then the rest of the cookie mix, and the chips and chunks.

LOTS of chips and chunks!

Drop balls of dough onto baking sheets. A tablespoon cookie scoop works well here.

Perfect! Ready to go into a 375°F oven.

Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes…

…and there you have it. Totally awesome chocolate chip cookies.

MaryJane pronounces the mix good to go, and it gets the green light: we’re ready to take orders.

Carol Colby, a long-time member of our customer service team, takes a phone order.

One Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix – check!

The order is transmitted downstairs to the fulfillment area…

…and Danielle Wheeler, a member of our pick-pack team, grabs it off the shelf.

The mix goes into a bin. The bin goes onto a conveyor…

…and Sue Bowen, a long-time member of our fulfillment team, carefully packs it into a box.

Back onto the conveyor belt…

…where it gets its tracking scan. Justin Shepard is the last person to handle your package before it goes onto the UPS trailer.

The conveyor belt goes right into the trailer. At the end of the day (or when the trailer’s full)…

…a UPS driver will come hook it up and drive it away.

Luckily, one of UPS’s regional centers is just about a block away from us. So the trailer doesn’t have far to travel. Once it’s unloaded at UPS, your package goes through a “geographical sorter,” and is then placed on a truck for delivery to its next location.

Your kitchen!

Meanwhile, back at King Arthur, Martha Marchetti and Barb Dyke have just supervised the delivery and unloading of more flour.

Make that 19 pallets’ worth of flour.

Did we mention it’s all about the flour?

Want to find out for yourself just how good our mixes our? Start with our Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix.

Did you know that when you buy 5 or more King Arthur mixes, you’ll automatically save 15% on those mixes?

And, did you know that we offer over 150 mixes?

Not a mix baker, you say? Trust me, all of us King Arthur test bakers keep a couple of mixes in our pantry, “just in case” – guests drop by unexpectedly, or we run out of baking powder, or chocolate chips, or time… The holiday’s are coming. Now’s the time to find out just how handy a King Arthur mix can be!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Wei-Wei

    It’s so interesting how things are mass-produced – thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look! About how long does it take to develop a mix?

    As far as the test kitchen phase, it can take anywhere from a week or so, to over a year – depends a lot on the necessary chemistry. For instance, our gluten-free mixes took, all together, over 2 years to develop, and we’re still working on refining them… PJH

    Reply
  2. SMJ

    Wow! That job does not look too different from one of my prior jobs (pharmaceutical chemistry). Are you hiring? Will work for cookies!

    ;o)

    Just had two more people start today… Check out our current job listings. And yes, particularly during the holidays we DO work for cookies (along with our regular paychecks, of course!) :) PJH

    Reply
  3. dmonroe15471

    I remember the very first time I opened and used three cups from a five-pound bag of King Arthur flour; there were absolutely NO LUMPS. I was stunned! Why hadn’t I bought King Arthur 20 years ago!

    This blog entry is another testament to the quality products you employee/owners put forth. I am awestruck by your commitent to quality and am glad I made the decision with that first bag of flour that I would buy your baking products exclusively.

    Tonight my four-year-old grandson and I will be making the pumpkin cheesecake squares. This is the first mix I’ve bought from King Arthur; I usually buy individual ingredients. Having read this entry, I am certain we won’t be disappointed.

    Thanks and keep up the great work!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment here. Great timing, since you’ll be sampling your first mix tonight – enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  4. Paul from Ohio

    Tremendous photo story with a MAJOR BONUS for me! A shot of MJ!!!!!!! Awesome. She’s given me the heads up on this Triple Chocolate Chip Mix by mentioning once she had baked a batch at home! “From a Box”, I asked, “yes,” she said,”and they’re scrumptious delicious”……or words to that effect. Since I’m craving and gonna be making chocolate chips today, I will now, for sure be orderimg this mix for next time – love the idea of triple chocolate and the photo makes them look 100% like the REAL DEAL!!!!!!! Thanks PJ, great blog, quite a team of folks hard at work! Nice.

    Your enthusiasm is contagious, Paul, thanks! So, you’re going to desert that deep-dish pizza for awhile, or you’re simply going to add the cc cookies as dessert? :) PJH

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  5. nelll

    One look at that first picture of the chocolate chip cookies and I could SMELL them and I wanted them – NOW.

    And I don’t even like chocolate chip cookies or sweets much in general, and haven’t baked them in years and years, since I lived in the US.

    So you left out one person: who took the picture that elicited that Pavlovian response from my childhood? Some kind of mojo going on there…

    That’s PJ causing all the mouthwatering mayhem. You can see a picture of her in Irene’s donut blog and in the Nutrimill blog too.
    ~ MaryJane

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  6. ebenezer94

    What a fabulous post. It’s great to see the human face of the process.

    KAF is a wonderfully family-friendly, “human” place to work. Our turnover rate is infinitesimal – once people start working here, they never want to leave. (Witness me – I’ve been here 20 years and still think Monday is the best day of the week because I have 5 enjoyable days in front of me…) : ) PJH

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  7. candango

    Thanks for posting this outstanding photo essay (photo story). It was interesting to follow the process and great to see all the faces working behind the scenes. Keep up the good work.

    Thanks – we appreciate your kind comments! PJH

    Reply
  8. milkwithknives

    Ooh, MaryJane, I love your hair!

    Oh, my, this was an excellent post. My husband and I (he is a process engineer and works in a similar environment) are crazy about touring manufacturing/industrial facilities. So far we have done Cape Cod Potato Chips in (duh) Cape Cod, Ethel’s Chocolates in Las Vegas, the US Post Office and Mrs. Field’s Cookies here in Salt Lake. Unfortunately, despite many inquiries, it’s hard to find places that will let us (or the general public) in for tours, likely due to liability and safety concerns. I’m definitely forwarding this to him so he can see the pictures. Thanks a ton for showing us how you do your magic.

    And I was DYING when I came to the “fulfillment area.” Fulfilling indeed.

    Hey, thanks! That was back when it was dyed, so now it’s back to it’s gray stage but definitely still short and spiky. I <3 hair glue!
    If you are looking for a great book to read about candy manufacturing in America, check out CandyFreak, by Steve Almond. Wonderful descriptions of tours he has taken through candy factories, and also about those he couldn't get into too. So, when are you coming to Vermont to tour Ben and Jerry's, Cabot Cheese, Lake Champlain Chocolates and of course, King Arthur Flour Baker's Store? We can't let folks into the production areas, but our store is so much fun, and you can talk to employee-owners all day! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  9. kettlesmith

    Is mix availability seasonal? Or do they just rotate out and are gone? Because I know some I’d been eyeballing in the catalog (like the butter pecan scones) or ones I just bought (like harvest sunflower yeast bread) aren’t on the website any more. I understand not every mix is a star, but it is disappointing to go looking for more of a certain mix and not seeing it because they are very yummy!

    That’s right. One of our notorious seasonal catch quick selections is the Pina Colada Scones. We only have those during summer. In autumn the pumpkin mixes return. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  10. biobaker

    As a food science graduate student, stories like these are my life force. I can read about food processing and chemistry all day, but those textbooks are useless without case studies and examples. This is a great window into your manufacturing process. I’d love to see a story (or two, or eight!) going into a little more detail on how you develop your recipes both for mixes and for the website, catalogue, and Baking Sheet. The “tinker” articles in the Baking Sheet are inspiring. Please keep them coming!

    Developing mix recipes is often a long, slow haul, with test after test after test, sometimes involving just a single gram’s worth of change in one ingredient… Catalogue and online recipes are definitely faster, as they often riff off another similar recipe: start with something that works, then change the flavor or texture a bit to make it something different and just as delicious. The hardest part about it all is the technology – using the computer makes it easier in a way, and more of a time-sink in other ways… You’re right, though – it’s ALWAYS interesting. Maybe I should do a sequence of photos sometime of how many times we bake a single rcipe during the development process… : ) PJH

    Reply
  11. spots4debi2

    Thanks for introducing the folks behind the perfection. You know, that is what my results are with every KA product I have ever used and as much as it is about top notch ingredients, it is about great people. Makes my baking all the sweeter.

    Thanks so much! I’m definitely passing along these comments to the group… PJH

    Reply
  12. kthorn

    After reading this, you folks feel more like a family friend than a company. Thank you so much for the story behind the mix.

    Thanks – life is too short to be a “corporate entity,” right? :) PJH

    Reply
  13. martibeth

    This will sound ridiculous, but the photo I lingered over the longest time was the one of the unbaked cookies on the baking sheet. I was curious to see how many cookies you all try to fit at one time. I was so pleased to see that I put the same number on one baking sheet. By the way, I see you have an opening for a baking specialist. Are you sure I can’t work from Virginia?

    Funny the things we fasten on, eh, Marti? I play around with spacing cookies all the time – usually having to do with if I can possibly squeeze the entire recipe onto two baking sheets (thus one bake rather than two). I often offset them, as you can get more on the sheet that way. And the baking specialist has to be here – we’re not set up for offsite bakers…. yet! PJH

    Reply
  14. rivkyrosenberg

    Did you ever consider having any of your mixes certified as kosher? I use your flours all the time and I would love to try your mixes. Thanks

    Our gluten-free mixes are kosher, but he haven’t yet taken that quite expensive step of the kosher certification process for mixes packed here in our own fulfillment center… PJH

    Reply
  15. nthompson

    Thanks! that was fascinating!! I can’t help wondering how you keep mice out of that warehouse full of food! More than once the mice in my house have found my stash of chocolate from King Arthur – apparently it is QUITE delectable to mice as well as humans.

    Yes, it’s a challenge, but we keep things VERY CLEAN and are inspected regularly by the pest control folks, so any potential problems are caught very early, and thus easily remedied… PJH

    Reply
  16. librarian50

    This was absolutely fascinating. I love seeing the faces and hearing the names of the very real people behind KAF’s success. Your company is one of the best in the nation. To tell you the truth, I buy from all over the world–Europe, India, Japan–and KA is one of the best on the planet. All of it’s due to you guys: your work, talent, determination, and dare I say your ownership of your work. That you love what you do also plays a very large part in your success, I’m sure of it.

    Keep up doing it the way you do it. I can’t imagine how you guys could get any better, but if there’s a way, I’m sure you’ll find it. Take care, Hope
    Thank you, Hope. It is so nice to see that we are doing our jobs well! I am very lucky to be able to work with such quality people and with such quality products. Thank you for your loyalty! Elisabeth

    Reply
  17. kmjas1

    The process reminds me of 40 years ago, when I worked for the New Hampton, Iowa Sara Lee Production Facility. Enjoyed the team work from office, production & shipping departments that went into producing a finished product. Looks like you all enjoy this attitude too. Thanks for the memories.
    The warehouse gets really hopping during the holidays as you probably will remember from your Sara Lee days. We get so busy that KAF employees are pulled from other departments to work the line so our customers can get their shipments as fast as possible! We work as a team here! Elisabeth

    Reply
  18. happycricket17

    After seeing and reading this whole posting about the process you go through for your finished mixes, I just may have to try some. Up to now I’ve salivated over the recipes (and results in my kitchen) but ignored the mixes you offer. This may have to change.
    The mixes have been a great comfort for my 78 year old recently widowed father. He loves to whip up a great quality tasting scone or cookie in 30 minutes or less. KAF does most of the work while you just add a few more ingredients. It really is “home made” in a box! Elisabeth

    Reply
  19. dozer

    Truly enjoyed all your all your blogs, but this was a different aspect of your company and very interesting. I am from the Midwest and have never been to Vermont. As soon as I can work it in my vacation schedule a trip to Vermont, a visit to your store and taking a class at King Arthur is at the top of my list!

    Great! We hope to see you in VT! Elisabeth

    Reply
  20. Leslie Underwood

    Great post. Thanks. I love seeing the faces behind the “King.”

    P.S. PJ, was that you I heard interviewed in an NPR story on mammograms?

    Thanks, Leslie — much appreciated. And yup, that was me on NPR – my “alternate reality” beyond KAF :) PJH

    Reply
  21. sakelarides

    I too have always resisted the mixes as I am traditionally a scratch baker and I feel that they are a little on the high side. Economics is one of the reasons I’m a scratch baker in the first place.
    After seeing this post I mjust might give them a try. One question though, are all of your mixes made on your premises by KAF or do you have some made for you elsewhere?
    Hi there,
    All of our mixes, with the exception of the gluten free mixes, are produced here in Vermont. We have the gluten free mixes and ingredients produced for us off-site. Great question! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  22. raesy8

    I think they look good, but you skipped the best part!!
    The tasting test! It didn’t show anyone eating the cookies, a good cook always tastes the end results!

    I tasted – I attest, the cookies are YUMMY! PJH

    Reply
  23. zairesabode

    Thanks, PJ, for the wonderful behind-the-scenes peek. Not only was it a treat to ‘meet’ everyone, but factory/brewery/winery/warehouse tours are a travel highlight in our family… so your ‘soup to nuts’ photo spread hit the spot! If it’s possible to make us all even more loyal to KAF, letting us get right inside with you is sure the way to do it (along with the great products, of course – grin)! Whatever topic inspires you, please keep the photo essays coming! Tory

    Thanks, Tory – it was a fun blog to do. I got to walk around and chat with lots of people I don’t get to see every day – we’re all so busy all the time! PJH

    Reply
  24. judikins

    Thanks for showing us that interesting process.
    Here’s something I have always wondered: would it be possible to include on your website the recipe that would enable the “from scratch” home baker to reproduce what we would get from one of your mixes? I buy products from your catalogue all the time and sometimes there is a mix that sounds so yummy, but I still really want to make it from scratch with King Arthur ingredients. Perhaps there is already a similar recipe that you could point out for those who wish to bake from scratch.
    Do you not do that because you would compete with yourselves or something? I actually think this would address 2 different consumers: those that buy your mixes and those that buy your ingredients. Thanks!
    Great question. We can’t offer the exact recipe for making one of our mixes for several reasons. The biggest is that our formulas are proprietary. Just like the Colonel’s secret recipe, we need to protect our hard work and investment. Another reason is that some of the mixes will contain ingredients that aren’t available to the general public. Sour cream powder comes to mind, and there are others as well.
    BUT we do realize that scratch bakers would love to be able to create the flavors and textures of the mixes themselves, so we do make some recipes that are very close to the mixes. Our Faux Reos recipe is close to the Chocolate Sandwich Cookie mix, and we even have a homemade version of our Chocolate Lava Cakes. We can’t of course offer scratch recipes for all of our mixes, but we do try to offer a good variety. I hope this helps!
    ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  25. Irene in TO

    OK, great story. Us chemists of all flavours know how much fun it is to do this for a living. Sometimes we try to reverse-engineer your formulas, that keeps us on our toes. In Canada we have this great chain of bulk foods stores that sell a lot of the specialty raw ingredients for a very reasonable price.

    I would like to suggest that each mix be tested twice: once mixed with your handy mixer, and once mixed by hand. Because that’s where common mistakes happen–mixing too much, not mixing enough, etc. The angel food cake mix when mixed by a non-baker comes to mind. It did just fine as foam rubber…not so nice as cake.

    Reply
  26. SoupAddict Karen

    That was an awesome post – thanks for taking all those photos, what a fun sneak peak! I always keep a bag of Vanilla Buttercream Frosting Mix on hand. And btw, if you ever decide to start a mix/recipe testing program using outside bakers (like America’s Test Kitchen), I’m sure you’d have all the volunteers you could stand (“oh! oh! me! me!”).

    Reply
  27. Blue-Eyed Baker

    I think Soup Addict’s comment is a great one. I know there are many bakers around the country, who, with their varied circumstances (high altitude, sea level, humidity, etc.) would be more than happy to test recipes adding the variables that home bakers throw in!! You would have many volunteers! The post was fascinating and it does make me even more loyal to KA! I love every blog and have never ordered a product that I was not extremely pleased by. Your quality is awesome!

    Thanks so much, BEB- wish we could manage a countrywide testing program, bet we’d get lots of good feedback- hmmm, good thought… PJH

    Reply

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