WASHINGTON — While an official figure has yet to be issued by the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture, available data suggest per capita flour consumption in 2021 fell to the lowest level in 32 years.

Calculations by Milling & Baking News using USDA data on domestic disappearance of flour last year and population data from the Bureau of the Census would place per capita flour consumption at 129.2 lbs, down 2.9 lbs, or 2.2%, from 132.1 lbs in 2020, and down 1.5 lbs from 130.8 lbs in 2019. While per capita consumption has seen numerous peaks and valleys over the last three decades, the 129.2-lb figure falls beneath the lowest ebb since 1989 when per capita consumption was 129.1 lbs.

The decrease in consumption followed an unusual gain in 2020 of 1.3 lbs, to 132.1 lbs. Per capita consumption in 2021 was down 1.6 lbs from 130.8 lbs in 2019, which had been the low-water mark in recent years.

Holding the USDA back from issuing an official figure is a gap in Census population data. The USDA calculates per capita consumption by dividing annual flour disappearance by the average monthly US population for each year. A footnote on the ERS flour supply and disappearance page in its Wheat Yearbook dataset, says population figures through 2020 were generated using 2019 Census data.

In response to an inquiry from Milling & Baking News, an economist at the ERS said, “There is a challenge at the moment that Bureau of the Census has one data series — the 2019 estimates — that are continuous up to 2020.  Then there are 2020 figures that start with April of 2020.  We are currently using the 2019 estimates as noted in the footnotes because the newer figures would show a ‘jump’ in population without smoothing the series (and because the revised data series doesn’t give us a full 12 months of data).  We are hoping to have a more continuous data series from Bureau of the Census before filling in the 2021 data.”

The ERS economist said in addition to a 2021 figure, new figures for per capita consumption may be issued for earlier years. To the degree population estimates are revised upward, as suggested by the ERS economist, per capita consumption figures should be further reduced, at least slightly.

The Census in a 2017 projection estimated US population growth of 0.71% in 2021 from the year before, which would place population last year at 332,430,000, up from 330,086,000 in 2020. Dividing flour disappearance of 429,338,000 cwts into the 2021 population figure of 332.4 million yields the per capita figure of 129.3 lbs.

At 429,338,000 cwts, flour disappearance last year was down 6.6 million cwts from 435,919,000 cwts in 2020 and was the smallest since 428,543,000 cwts in 2016. Flour production and imports both fell in 2021 – 4,521,000 cwts and 2,860,000 cwts, respectively. Flour exports in 2021 were down 696,000 cwts from the year before.