Aug 3 2008
08:03 am

Blogging bakers are bemoaning the demise of their beloved White Lily flour. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Lately, some customers have been buying five and six bags at a time, hoarding it out of fears that the specialty flour is changing. The recent closing of the original White Lily mill in Knoxville, Tenn., has them wringing their flour-dusted hands over the idea that White Lily is now being milled exclusively by Yankees in northwest Ohio.

Outraged bakers have been blaming the J.M. Smucker Co., the Orrville jam and jelly maker that bought the White Lily brand two years ago. Convinced that an Ohio company couldn't possibly appreciate a flour that touts itself as "a Southern tradition since 1883," they have trash-talked Smucker and threatened to boycott its products on their blogs.

Not so fast, says the J.M. Smucker Co.

In a letter to consumers on their website, Smucker's claims:

We took great care to maintain White Lily's unique recipe and production processes, including the use of only the same soft red winter wheat which was primarily sourced from Ohio, Michigan and Indiana throughout the history of the brand. In fact, the current milling operation is located in the heart of soft red winter wheat country which means the wheat will move from field to milling more quickly than when it was produced in Tennessee.

Further, there have been no changes to the product specifications or milling process and our experience and testing demonstrates the product consistently delivers the high quality performance consumers demand of White Lily products.

According to the Plain Dealer article, White Lily has been milled both in Knoxville and a mill in Ohio for over a century. The Knoxville mill, run by C.H. Guenther & Son, was an independent operation and not acquired when Smucker's took over White Lily. The Knoxville mill shut down at the end of June, leaving only the Ohio mill, another independent operation. It sounds like part of Smucker's problem is that they don't own the mills.

Another problem is their weak PR fu. According to "crisis communications" specialists quoted in the article, Smucker's isn't doing enough to get their message out and one said that they should "reach out to bloggers" and join the dialogue.

Here's what some of those bloggers are saying:

Serious Eats: The Geography of Taste

To every Southern baker I know, White Lily is synonymous with the South. It represents the soul of Southern baking tradition. Move White Lily out of the South? That's insane. That would be like moving Kossar's Bialys from Manhattan's Lower East Side to Manhattan, Kansas, or moving Tabasco Sauce production from Avery Island, Louisiana, to Santa Fe, or Gallo Wine from California to Salt Lake City.

Deep Fried Kudzu: White Lily Update

I told her it was my understanding that the mills up north were already making White Lily. Does that mean that those mills haven't started shipping the flour yet? She didn't answer that but again said that everything that is on the store shelves right now is from Knoxville.

Really, I would be happy with that explanation but I don't understand why I couldn't just get the code so I would know that the 'x' number of bags I buy this weekend really are from Knoxville. You know?

She added that there was no way I would be able to tell the difference between Knoxville White Lily and the newly made flour anyway.

Well, I couldn't help myself, so I very nicely asked her if she read the article in the NY Times which says that two other sources could tell the difference. She said that it was a (okay, yes! I did take notes!! you know me!!) "flawed test" and that one of the testers was a "former employee" so there you go.

Good Home: The Southern Biscuit is in Trouble

This could be very bad. I called my mom at work today and told her to buy every bag she could find, asap, but she said for the last few weeks she’s had a hard time finding it on the shelves. Hey, M. Night Shyamalan, this is what you should be making movies about!

If any of my Arkansas readers are tuning in, I’ll happily pay for bags you find still milled in TN (should say on the package) and pick them up on my next trip home (sometime later this summer).

At least one blogger, however, came to Smucker's defense: The Whole Truth about White Lily Flour

Previous discussion at KnoxViews...

Dave Mastio's picture

This post is why I love blogging

Seriously. I had no idea any of this was going on, who would care and why. But all the links were great reads. I learned something interesting about food and agriculture.

Great way to start a Sunday.

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