Per capita flour use dips to 133 lbs

by Morton Sosland
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Reaches lowest level in 18 years.

WASHINGTON — Per capita disappearance of wheat flour in the United States dipped in 2015 to the lowest level in 18 years and represents a cumulative fall of 14 lbs, or 10%, from the recent peak in 1997. The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture released on April 14 its compilations of domestic disappearance of flour in the United States.

Per capita flour disappearance in 2015 was placed by the E.R.S. at 133 lbs, compared with 135 lbs in the two previous years. The recent peak in per capita flour disappearance occurred in 1997 at 147 lbs.

The last year in which per capita flour use was lower than 2015 was in 1989, when per capita was 129 lbs. Yet, that figure had represented a considerable increase from the modern low in flour disappearance on a per-person basis, which was 110 lbs in 1971. That number marked the nadir of a downward trend that ruled in most of the first 60 years and more of the 20th century, except for wartime surges. At the turn of that century, per capita averaged above 200 lbs but gradually fell as diets diversified.

From the low point in the 1970s, per capita flour disappearance increased for almost 30 years to the 1997 peak. The 21st century has witnessed a weak trend in per capita, which fell from 146 lbs in 2000 to 133 in the past twelve months.

The recent downward trend in per capita flour consumption contrasts with the mostly rising course of total disappearance of wheat flour in the United States, as also measured by the E.R.S. Total disappearance in 2015 was estimated at 429,646,000 cwts, which for all practical purposes was the same as 429,826,000 in 2014. The latter ranks as the all-time record in flour disappearance. It compares with 413,239,000 in 2000 and 400,619,000 in 1997, the year of the recent per capita peak. The latter also was the first year in which consumption exceeded 400 million cwts. The first time 300 million cwts was surpassed came in 1986. For most of the preceding years, flour use varied above 200 million cwts, and for many years was close to that total.

E.R.S. computes these consumption figures using domestic flour production as compiled by a sister agency (National Agricultural Statistics Service) to which imports are added and exports removed. Flour production in 2015 reached a record total of 424,894,000 cwts to which 14,725,000 cwts of imports brought the total flour supply to a new record of 439,619,000 cwts. That compares with 438,792,000 cwts in 2014 and 430,936,000 cwts in 2000.

Deducting 6,442,000 cwts of flour exports and 3,531,000 cwts of flour exported in the form of pasta and bread and similar products makes total wheat flour disappearance of 429,646,000 cwts.

It is notable that flour imports, at 14,725,000 cwts, were a new record total, except for a few years during World War II when exports exhausted domestic production and flour was taken from Canada. It was only in 2001 that flour imports first exceeded 10 million cwts. Contrasting with the record imports were the relatively small exports of flour. At 6,442,300 cwts, the pace of clearances was the same low rate as in recent years when the U.S. government stopped subsidizing commercial flour shipments and also foreign aid. In 2000, U.S. flour exports were 16,005,000 cwts. In 1947, when foreign food aid dominated, flour exports from the United States exceeded 98 million cwts.

Per capita disappearance figures are estimated by dividing the total disappearance by a population figure that represents the calendar year average and includes Armed Forces overseas. The 2015 population average was 322,997,000, against 319,173,000 in the preceding year, a rise of 1%.

In estimating per capita disappearance, the E.R.S. computes to showing a single digit of tenths. Milling & Baking News has resisted showing tenths that seem to reflect accuracy for a figure that is subject to such widespread variations.
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