Erosion of per capita flour intake continued in 2016

by Josh Sosland
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Flour
Per capita consumption of flour in 2016 decreased to 131.6 lbs.

WASHINGTON — Per capita consumption of flour in 2016 decreased to 131.6 lbs, off 1.4 lbs from the year before and the smallest annual total in 37 years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

At 131.6 lbs, per capita consumption compared with 133 lbs in 2015 and was the smallest since 130 lbs in 1989. It was the third consecutive year in which per capita flour consumption declined, with the 1.4 lbs in 2016 preceded by 1.7 lbs in 2015 and 0.3 lb in 2014.

For the most part, per capita consumption held between 134 lbs and 137 lbs between 2002 and 2014, an unusual period of stability for a statistic that historically had been gravitating steadily lower or heading higher for most of the last 140 years. The recent peak for per capita consumption was 147 lbs in 1997. The low for per capita flour consumption was 110 lbs in 1971 and 1972.

At 131.6 lbs, per capita consumption has surrendered 15.2 lbs, or 41% of the increase achieved between the 1972 low and the 1997 peak.

An early May downward revision in estimated 2016 flour production by the U.S.D.A. shaved more than half a pound from the per capita estimate. The U.S.D.A. lowered estimated flour production to 423,703,000 cwts from a preliminary estimate of 425,406,000 cwts. At the larger figure, per capita consumption would have been 132.2 lbs.

Flour imports in 2016 were up from the year before, at 15,058,000 cwts, versus 14,758,000 cwts in 2015. Still, the 300,000-cwt increase in imports as a consumption boost was more than offset by an increase in flour exports of 984,000 cwts, to 7,360,000 cwts.

The flour import figure was a new record high (beating the previous record set in 2015). The flour export total for 2016 was the largest since 2001, when flour exports totaled 10,507,000 cwts.

Semolina, pasta, bulgur, and couscous exports totaled 2,938,000 cwts in 2016, down from 3,565,000 cwts a year earlier. All told, domestic disappearance of flour in 2016 was 428,463,000 cwts, down 1,263,000 cwts from 2015 and down from 429,843,000 cwts in 2014.

The per capita consumption figure was calculated based on a 2016 calendar-year average population figure of 325,487,000, up 0.8% from 322,997,000 in 2015. 
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