Robert Allen and Kathleen Spinelli established Brands-to-Books as a literary agency specializing in representing brands seeking publishing deals. They can be reached at [email protected]
For anyone who didn’t get the memo that branded books have changed from publishing’s embarrassing cousin to suddenly its favorite child, here’s an update. Not only are publishers and retailers looking at them with new enthusiasm, but they can even pass the ultimate snob test. Branded books can be honored by the foodie community.
This May, the James Beard Foundation awarded its prestigious Kitchen Aid Cookbook of the Year prize to The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. The packaging of the book has all the same elements publishers are apt to shy away from: the product’s logo dominates the front cover, and an author’s name is nowhere in sight. Yet it became one of the most celebrated books of the year. How did a branded book earn such respect?
It starts and ends with the brand. King Arthur Flour has a devoted cult following with bakers, making it the third bestselling flour in the country. The 214-year-old company, based in Norwich, Vt., sells its product in grocery and specialty stores to home bakers, and through wholesalers to professionals. But it’s more than their product that inspires devotion. It’s delivering their brand promise of baking expertise matched by their commitment to quality interaction with the customer. Want the flour delivered directly to your door? Order it from The Baker’s Catalogue, King Arthur Flour’s mail order and website resource, along with exotic ingredients (like Vietnamese cinnamon) and specialty gadgets (ceramic ginger graters). The catalog is published roughly every month, and has a 7.5 million annual circulation. Baking crisis? Call their Baker’s Hotline. Want recipes? Subscribe to The Baking Sheet, a bi-monthly newsletter of recipes developed at the King Arthur Flour test kitchens. Sharpen your culinary skills at the Baking Education Center, with classes for beginners and professionals. The oldest food company in New England smartly uses the Web to bond with its customers. Besides its online catalog, consumers can join the Baking Circle to exchange recipes and tips with fellow bakers, and sign up for emails featuring recipes (with convenient links to purchase ingredients).
In the early 1990s, King Arthur Flour paired with fellow Norwich-based Countryman Press for a collection of recipes celebrating the company’s 200th anniversary and enjoyed modest success. When Kermit Hummel arrived as Editorial Director at Countryman (now a division of WW Norton), both companies discarded the idea of a revised edition in favor of “a top-to-bottom bible of baking.” The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion ($35, 640 pages, Sept. 2003) shares the recipes and techniques honed in their famous test kitchens. The more than 150 employees of King Arthur Flour developed the content, and this collaboration was honored by not naming a single author for the cookbook.
As they were developing the book, “we kept asking ourselves, is the book living up to the brand?” remarked Toni Apgar, KAF’s Consumer Marketing Director. “We made sure we put the same passion and quality that goes into our brand into the book.” Hummel says of their partnership, “King Arthur Flour delivered the trust consumers have in them, and we brought the national distribution and national exposure they couldn’t reach on their own.” The cookbook now has over 100,000 copies in print.
Direct from Vermont — the advantage to having too many cooks in the kitchen. The latest collaboration, The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, goes on sale in November.