Published 02 April 2020
The UK's millers double production levels to keep up with the soaring demand for flour during the coronavirus pandemic.
April 2, 2020 - Since the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown, people in the UK have been panic buying loo rolls, dried pasta, tinned foods, shower gel and - flour. Inspired by programmes such as The Great British Bake Off and with more time on their hands thanks to coronavirus, consumers have been hoarding bags of the essential baking ingredient.
In recent weeks supermarket shelves have been stripped bare of flour as retailers have struggled to keep up with demand. According to a consumer spending report by market research company IRI, UK retails sales of flour were up 145.5% year-on-year in the week ending March 15.
The UK is self-sufficient in flour producing approximately 90,000 tonnes per week. Most is delivered in tankers to bakeries and other food manufacturers, but about 3,000 tonnes are sold to consumers through shops and supermarkets. This is the equivalent of two million 1.5 kilogram bags and represents about 4% of the total flour milled each week.
To keep up with the unprecedented pressure on suppliers, millers are working 24 hours a day seven days a week, the length and breadth of the country, doubling production to an equivalent of 3.5 to 4 million bags.
Although the UK’s milling industry has stepped up and production lines are running at maximum capacity, there is a snag. According to Alex Waugh, director-general of the National Association of British & Irish Millers production is limited by the capacity to pack small bags that are used in retail.
“This is only enough for 15% of households to buy a bag of flour per week,” he added in a statement. “Supplies of commercial flour are typically delivered either in larger bags or tankers and are therefore not subject to the same limitations.
“One option is for retailers and wholesalers to stock larger bags of flour, which might be suited to more regular home-bakers. This would require a change in shopping patterns, however.
“Otherwise, it will be a question of time before the surge in demand reduces enough for this enhanced level of production to meet requirements and allow stock levels to be rebuilt.”