A diverse collection of statistical figures at the end of 2014 pertaining to grain-based foods and the U.S. economy more generally may offer the best way for the industry to take stock at the start of the new year.
In the industry, the price of flour at the end of 2014 was 12% beneath the year-end figure in 2013 and the pan bread index of ingredient costs was down 14% for the year. Dollar sales of bread in 2014 (through late November) rose 2.4%, according to Nielsen, after slipping 0.4% in 2013. The index of the industry’s share prices rose more than 16%, to a record high. Another completely different indicator, the winter wheat crop in what had been drought-ravaged Texas, was rated only 13% poor or very poor in the final condition report of 2014, versus 28% at the end of 2013 and 40% in 2012.
Hopeful economic measures include U.S. unemployment at 5.8% versus 6.7% in December 2013; 10-year yields on U.S. Treasury bonds at 2.24%, versus 2.99%; and crude oil prices of $53.46, down 46%. The Index of Consumer Expectations in December 2014, at 86.4, was up from 72.1 a year earlier and 75% higher than the September 2010 low of 49.4. Even acknowledging the likelihood of surprises, both good and bad lurking ahead, it’s apparent the industry is starting on the right foot in 2015.