A close look at the data relating to wheat flour disappearance in the first six months of 2009 shows continuation of the pattern of recent years when little change, up or down, occurs. Remembering that domestic use in 2008 was within one percentage point of the prior year, it seems particularly telling that estimated use in the first half of 2009 came within the same narrow range of the prior year. This stability might be the envy of other industries in these difficult times, but for grain-based foods it is not totally positive. As population rises, steady domestic use translates into a downtrend in per capita consumption.

The estimate that domestic use in January-June matched the same 2008 period reflects wheat flour production in the half-year, at 202,690,000 cwts, down by 1.2 million from the preceding year. This decrease in output was totally accounted for by wheat flour exports in January-June lagging 2008 by 1 million cwts and exports of products decreasing to make up for the balance of the output cut. A small durum semolina output gain for the year’s first half doesn’t make the data more favorable.

Financial reports for the first half of 2009, issued in recent weeks by publicly traded companies in grain-based foods, would affirm these slight changes in unit volume. Even while acknowledging that stability has a positive aspect in these harsh times for consumers and for food manufacturers, industry executives know the advantages of operating in a market that is growing rather than one that is barely steady.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, August 25, 2009, starting on Page 4. Click

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