WASHINGTON — Disappearance of wheat flour in the United States in 2009, according to estimates just issued by the Economic Research Service, dipped slightly — hardly 0.5% — from the aggregate of the preceding year. The net total was in line with the all-time record established in 2007, down only 0.7% from that peak. For purposes of estimates like these, total wheat flour disappearance has held unchanged near its peak for three years in a row.

The total of wheat flour disappearance in 2009 was 414,074,000 cwts, compared with 415,998,000 in 2008 and the record of 417,155,000 in 2007. The figure first reached 400 million cwts in 1997, and from that mark, disappearance has increased 13,455,000 cwts, or 3.4%.

Annual wheat flour disappearance is computed by the E.R.S. by deducting from the domestic flour supply, comprising production plus imports, exports of flour and of flour-containing products. Disappearance, it should be emphasized, is not the same as consumption, although the two estimates are often confused. In

analyzing these factors, the E.R.S. estimates a loss of 12% between the supply and what is sold to consumers at retail. A further loss of 18% occurs in measuring actual consumption. In fact, the E.R.S. currently assumes, and has done this for a number of years, that right at 30% of the wheat flour supply is lost or wasted.

All-time high set in 2000

In estimating 2009 disappearance, the E.R.S. drew upon the preliminary flour production data issued a fortnight ago by the Bureau of the Census. The Census placed output in the year at 414,996,000 cwts, compared with 416,283,000 in 2008 and the record of 418,836,000 in 2007. The 2009 flour supply was 425,311,000 cwts, against 427,105,000 in 2008 and 430,347,000 in 2007. The latter was slightly below the all-time record supply of 430,936,000 cwts, attained in 2000.

Besides 2009 output, the flour supply included 10,315,000 cwts of flour and flour-containing product imports. Since reaching the peak of 11,740,000 cwts in 2006, imports have been on a downward course, with the 2009 total the smallest since 10,213,000 in 2001. The latter was the first year of imports above 10 million cwts.

Deducted from the 2009 supply to arrive at disappearance were exports totaling 11,237,000 cwts, compared with 11,104,000 in 2008 and 13,193,000 in 2007. The 2009 exports included 5,900,000 cwts of wheat flour and 5,337,000 cwts as products like bread and pasta. While imports of wheat flour and products were still near their peak, exports were down sharply from earlier years, including the recent flour shipment peak of 23,801,000 cwts in 1994.

Per capita figure dips

As noted in the Milling & Baking News issue of March 23, Page 17, the estimate of total flour disappearance resulted in a decrease in per capita disappearance. Per capita disappearance is calculated by dividing total disappearance by the July 1 estimate of total U.S. population. This resulted in a per capita disappearance estimate for 2009 of 134.7 lbs, compared with 136.5 in 2008 and 138.1 in 2007. This returned per capita disappearance to near the recent low of 134.5 lbs in 2004, and represented a setback of 12.1 lbs, or 8%, from the recent high of 146.8 in 1997.

It was toward the end of the 20th century and early in the 21st that wheat flour consumption felt the negative impact of the popularity of low-carbohydrate dieting promoted by Dr. Robert Atkins.

The U.S. population total utilized in these calculations was 307,484,000 at the mid-point of 2009, against 304,831,000 a year earlier and 302,025,000 in 2007. The latter was the first to surpass 300 million.

Assuming that the E.R.S. will not change its loss calculation method, actual per capita consumption of wheat flour in 2009 was 94.3 lbs, compared with 96.2 in 2008 and 97.3 in 2007. The recent high in this loss-adjusted calculation was 103.3 lbs in 1997.

While durum flour is included in the computations of total wheat flour supply and disappearance, the E.R.S. also does parallel estimates of durum flour alone. For 2009, the durum flour supply was 37,515,000 cwts, made up of output of 31,496,000 cwts and imports of flour and products of 6,019,000. From this was deducted exports totaling 2,171,000 cwts to arrive at domestic disappearance of 35,344,000 and per capita disappearance of 11.5 lbs. That compared with domestic disappearance of 34,642,000 cwts and per capita of 11.4 in 2008. The recent peak in durum flour per capita disappearance was 13.8 lbs in 1994 when aggregate domestic use was 36,304,000. The all-time high in domestic disappearance of durum flour was 37,217,000 cwts in 2007 when per capita was 12.3.

The E.R.S. applies the same 30% loss factor between supply and consumption to durum flour as it does to all wheat flour. Thus, the per capita availability of 11.5 lbs estimated for 2009 becomes 8.3 lbs of actual consumption, against 8.0 in the prior year.

Excluding durum, still down in ‘09

Deducting the durum flour data from all wheat flour provides indications of trends for white and whole wheat flour. The total supply of white and whole wheat flour in 2009 amounted to 387,796,000 cwts, against 389,937,000 in 2008 and 390,992,000 in 2007. After exports are deducted, disappearance of white and whole wheat flour amounted to 378,730,000 cwts, against 381,959,000 in the previous year and 379,938,000 in 2007.

Per capita availability of white and whole wheat flour turned out to be 123.2 lbs in 2009. This was down from 125.1 in 2008 and 125.8 in 2007. The recent peak was 134.5 lbs in 1997, which contrasts with an average slightly above 100 lbs at the start of the 1970s.