Is the Pillsbury Bake-Off facing big changes?

The future of the Pillsbury Bake-Off is in question.
The future of the Pillsbury Bake-Off is in question.

Could the future of the mighty Pillsbury Bake-Off, the biggest cooking contest in the country, be in doubt?

In a post on a closed Facebook group for cooking contest participants, a Bake-Off follower reported receiving word from a consumer services representative that this year’s Bake-Off has been canceled: “After 47 years, Pillsbury (US) has decided to cancel this year’s Bake-Off competition. This was a competition that allowed amateur bakers from across the US to compete for the title of top baker. Typically this event would take place in November.”

Asked about the contest’s future by The Observer, Mike Siemienas, a Pillsbury spokesman, said there is no timeline for announcing whether the contest will continue or how it will be changed. However, he said that the competition “will likely launch during our next fiscal year.”

He released a formal statement from General Mills, which owns Pillsbury, that said in part:

“We are currently assessing how this 67-year-old contest comes to life in a relevant way for a new generation of home chefs. Future plans have not been determined.”

Pillsbury has made changes in the contest in recent years. After being held yearly since 1949, the contest changed to every other year and eventually raised the grand prize to $1 million. Several years ago, the contest also made a change to allow people to vote on recipes online, a change that was unpopular with many people who enter contests. It returned to a yearly contest in 2013 and 2014, but no contest was held last year.

While it started out as a baking contest, with Pillsbury Best Flour the only required ingredient, the contest shifted to a recipe focus in recent years with required ingredients coming from a long list of General Mills affiliate brands, including Green Giant products. The last $1 million winner, in 2014, was Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters, won by Beth Royals of Richmond.

For years, amateur cooks and regular contest competitors made the Bake-Off the highlight of their world. The company received tens of thousands of entries and sifted them carefully, cross-referencing and researching to make sure all recipes were original and not picked up from sources such as cookbooks. The announcement of the winner was usually covered on national TV, and the 100 finalists from all over the country were lavishly entertained at the finale, held in different cities around the country, from Orlando to San Francisco. The last contest was held in Nashville.

The contest has influenced American home cooking. The famous Tunnel of Fudge Cake, a winner in 1966, was so popular that it put the then-new Bundt pan on the map. When the powdered chocolate frosting that made the cake was discontinued, the company was forced to come up with a different version of the recipe to satisfy disappointed bakers, and updated versions of the recipe still show up in cookbooks and on food-news websites.

Over the years, several North Carolina cooks made trips to the Bake-Off as finalists. Janice and Larry Elder of Charlotte are regular cooking contest competitors who both had made repeat visits to the Bake-Off finals, twice for Janice and three times – the limit – for Larry.

Janice Elder said Monday that she’s been disappointed by the contest’s changes in recent years.

“It’s more of an assembly line these days,” she said. She said she had seen the post on Facebook that had led her to believe the contest’s future could be in question.

“I’ll be astonished if (the contest) happens (again),” she said. “It was a good ride while it lasted.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis