Published online: Jun 12, 2020 Feature
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This article appears in the June/July 2020 issue of Sugar Producer.

Home baking is having a moment right now—and that means that sugar is, too. While the “made from scratch” baking trend was increasing even before the pandemic locked us all inside, baking’s popularity has soared this spring during COVID-19 lockdowns. For sugar, a top four most commonly used baking ingredient (along with butter, flour and oil) this means an increase in sales. It also means an increase in online conversations that are positive toward sugar.  

Stay Home and Bake 

Sugar sales were up more than 60 percent over the previous year for the month of March as baking ingredients flew off supermarket shelves and people prepared to stay home. But the sugar isn’t just sitting pretty in the pantry; it is getting used by new and seasoned bakers of all ages.

Beyond sales data, social media and online search trends are another way to measure the uptick in baking during quarantine. Conversations about baking and sharing recipes on social media more than doubled from mid-March to mid-April with consumers using hashtags like #QuarantineKitchen to share what was keeping them busy during mandated social distancing. While searches for baking and recipes naturally spike on weekends, both increased significantly during lockdowns, rising to over 150 percent of the typical annual spike around the winter holidays. With the need to stay in, along with shortages at stores, searches for substitutions are also up with the most common being flour, milk, sugar, egg and butter. On average, substitution searches have increased about 50 percent. Specific to sugar, online searches for how to make your own powdered or brown sugar tripled in March and April.

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Not only are people buying and using more sugar; they’re talking more about it, too. Online conversations about sugar have increased 1,774 percent during the lockdown, with 92 percent of those conversations being positive.

While both men and women are involved in the baking conversation on social media (58 percent female, 42 percent male), almost 50 percent of the audience is between the ages of 18- and 24, with consumers 25 to 34 years old coming in second at 27 percent of the conversation. Many people who have never baked before are also testing their kitchen skills. First-time bakers are a significant part of the conversation, with over 45,500 social media mentions of first-time baking during just one week in April. 

The Sugar Association dove right into all this online baking enthusiasm by sponsoring a baking photo contest on Instagram in April. Participants (and there were many) included first-time bakers, families baking together (siblings and parents with children), Easter creations, lots of homemade birthday treats, and savory bakes in addition to sweet ones.

Keep Calm and Bake On 

There is good reason for this surge in baking: It has a lot to offer. For children, baking is a great teaching tool of math, science, reading, coordination, problem-solving, following directions and, of course, patience. Creating in the kitchen is a fun way to make home-schooling a little more hands-on. For many adults, baking is also seen as a low-cost activity that can be both comforting and stress-reducing.

Baking is one way to create memories and keep up family traditions, things that are more important than ever during a time we can’t physically be together with loved ones. Sharing recipes and pictures of tasty results of hard work in the kitchen is also a way to connect with the outside world—which is really needed right now!  

Let’s hope baking’s moment in the sun doesn’t end anytime soon and, instead, that the love for baking becomes a positive outcome of these strange times. For now, keep on baking and enjoying the delicious treats—in moderation, of course.