Since the emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States this past March, consumer demand for at-home use of baking essentials, like flour and other grain-based foods, has increased considerably. Despite dramatic and sudden increases in consumption of baked goods at retail, the United States wheat value chain never slowed and continued providing America’s families with a regular supply of safe, affordable food. Increased communications and collaboration within the industry enabled nimble, decisive actions by farmers and producers to meet this increase in demand.
In fact, as wheat harvest comes to an end, the US is anticipated to produce more than 1.8 billion bushels. This is more than enough to feed America and consumers abroad as a bushel of wheat can yield 42 1.5-lb commercial loaves of white bread. In the last several months, consumers rapidly shifted to not only baking more at home, but also purchasing fresh bakery items online for the first time. According to FMI, the food industry association, more than 40% of shoppers have reported cooking more, and about 40% say they intend to eat out less after the pandemic period is over. The wheat value chain acknowledges this trend and is rising to meet the challenge.
From growers to millers to bakers, facilities have quickly adapted to these drastic shifts in consumer trends and are working around the clock to deliver flour to food manufacturers and retailers throughout the country. The bakers have quickly adapted to COVID-19 disruptions in the supply chain by streamlining assortments and shifting some foodservice production to retail. During the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers, millers, and bakers have maintained open lines of communication, not only with one another, but with key federal agencies to ensure that nutritious staples like flour, bread and other grain-based foods can remain part of the American diet.
Our industries have remained steadfast in our commitment to an increase in production without sacrificing food safety or the welfare of workers; these top priorities along with keeping retail shelves stocked continue to be the three highest priorities for our sector as the COVID-19 public health emergency continues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 does not spread via food. With the US Department of Homeland Security designation of the food supply as one of the nation’s critical infrastructure sectors, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), the North American Millers’ Association (NAMA), and the American Bakers Association (ABA) have worked together to partner with public health officials, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, congressional staff, the US Food and Drug Administration , and the US Department of Agriculture to ensure that the food production system remains safe, abundant and consistent throughout the supply chain. Further, NAMA and ABA have reminded members of the importance of employing social distancing procedures, using additional safety gear and products, including masks, and applying other work safety measures into their operations. Throughout the pandemic, NAWG, NAMA, and ABA have made worker safety, supplying the food chain and supporting communities our most critical priorities.
Throughout the pandemic, the wheat industry has strengthened its relationship with community partners and amplified its voice on the importance of ending hunger. In outreach to members of Congress, both NAWG and NAMA advocate on important international food aid programs like P.L. 480 Title II (Food for Peace), Food for Progress, and McGovern-Dole International Food for Education. The COVID-19 pandemic, compounded by already elevated incidence of famine due to natural disasters and human conflict, is impacting the lives of millions around the world and their ability to access food. The wheat industry has requested that additional aid in COVID-19 relief packages go toward the procurement of US commodities through US international food aid programs to address the immediate needs of the emerging global hunger crisis. In communities nationwide, ABA’s members have been donating food to local food banks and essential workers. The wheat value chain continues to work with community partners to support those in need.
As the colder weather approaches with the onset of autumn, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely continue to keep millions of Americans indoors. The trend of cooking and baking more at home will keep rising, and the wheat value chain will continue to meet consumer demand. The public can be assured that there is ample supply, and the grocery store shelf will quickly be restocked. Consumers can also be confident in the nation’s food supply because it is one of the safest in the world with one of the most rigorous regulatory systems. Throughout the current public health emergency and beyond, NAWG, NAMA, and ABA will continue to work together to reduce disruptions in the supply chain and make certain that food reaches all of America’s families.