Flour use trends focus on need

by Morton Sosland
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Morton Sosland

There’s little comfort for American millers concerned about the stop in total flour consumption growth to know that their situation is shared by millers in a number of countries. Indeed, it’s not overreaching to say that U.S. millers may voice a hearty thanks for statistics showing that their peers in other developed nations have experienced falls in annual output that make the steady pace at home seem attractive.

Drawing on the latest statistics provided by the International Grains Council, the following countries have shown year-to-year decreases that exceeded 2 per cent and were as severe as 34.4 per cent: France, Germany, United Kingdom, Romania, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Those European falls were countered by the following posting yearly gains of 2 per cent and more: Azerbaijan, Canada, Argentina, Chile, Turkey, Indonesia, Mongolia and Sudan. The rest of the world, including the United States, posted flour production changes of less than 2 per cent, with many unchanged or registering slight movements. No country shows the prolonged period of scant change marking the United States.

Relying on these numbers to assemble an accurate picture of trends in global flour production would be most unwise, if for no other reason than that the two largest flour-consuming nations, China and India, do not provide numbers to the I.G.C. The total output of all the countries reporting to the Council for 2014 was near 110 million tonnes of wheat flour. Considering that the last output figure for China was near 80 million tonnes and that an approximate figure for India is near 65 million, their omission emphasizes that an accurate global number is unavailable.

Acknowledging this deficiency still leaves the I.G.C. flour output statistics as an extremely valuable tool for grasping flour milling and consumption trends. Placing Indonesia among the nations posting increases, this latest one at 5.5 per cent, reaffirms how Asia is a highly positive market for wheat-based foods. It was the introduction of cup noodles by the country’s leading flour miller that pointed the way to building demand. This has prompted large-scale flour mill expansion as well as the resumption of sizable imports. In Africa, Sudan with a 15.5 per cent rise in flour output in 2014 is cited as an excellent example of the continent’s potential, given stability in both economy and government. That continent’s most populous country, Nigeria, once considered the nation likely to challenge milling anywhere else, is in a chaotic state due to government and economic instability due to civil strife.

Broad conclusions from these data pointing to marketing problems faced by millers in Europe from setbacks in demand and fast-growing markets in Asia, Africa and, yes, South America tend to overlook a few trends that are not defined by national boundaries. Most important as a determinant of the pace of demand is obviously the state of the economy and the attitudes of consumers. Here the European views of food that tend to dismiss efforts to apply science or innovations of almost any sort have had a severely negative effect. This was a flour market in an area where the quality of bread alone once related directly to flour consumption. In some ways, similar impacts are prevailing in the United States where unchanged output from year to year is marked by downtrends in per capita use.

Most obvious is the real need for millers in these highly developed areas to find effective ways of answering what are basically false attacks on the quality and nutritional value of the food they make. As difficult as it has proved over the years to enlist members of national milling and baking industries, the present situation hints that the best answer may be achieved through undertaking international collaboration. The growth in demand that occurs year after year in developing nations in all parts of the world underscores how flour stands tall as the prime ingredient of what is definitely the Staff of Life.

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