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‘Relocalization’ of the US wheat industry: Opportunities and challenges

By Kacey Culliney , 26-Oct-2012

Local sourcing welcomed by majority of bakers in western Washington, finds study
Local sourcing welcomed by majority of bakers in western Washington, finds study

US bakers are keen to source wheat locally but consistent high quality and supply would need to be guaranteed, a study finds.

In a study published in the journal of Agriculture and Human Values, a research survey of bakers in the western Washington State (WAA) aimed to ascertain if a local food movement in the baking industry would be welcomed.

Researchers noted that while this study was confined to one US state area, findings of the opportunities and challenges in relocalization of the wheat industry could be applied on a wider scale.

“The local food movement thus far has focused primarily on fresh produce and animal products, but has largely neglected staple crops,” the researchers wrote.

The wheat processing sector in the US is highly centralized and because it is traded as a commodity, information about the production is lost along the supply chain, they said.

“One of the most important features of a short supply chain is that the product reaches the consumer embedded with information, by way of package labeling or personal communication.”

“Because grains are so important in human and livestock diets and their production represents a significant amount of agricultural land use, a shift towards localization of grain production and processing could have important economic, social and environmental benefits.”

“Commercial bakers are potentially important food chain intermediaries in the case of relocalized wheat production,” the researchers said.

Bakery interest in engagement?

Findings showed that 61% of respondents would be interested in purchasing local wheat/flour, 36% were unsure and 3% were not interested.

“Bakers who used retail strategies to market their products were more likely to be interested in western Washington (WAA) wheat/flour compared to those not using retail methods. The retail setting allows the commercial bakery to transmit the ‘story’ of the wheat/flour to the customer,” the researchers said.

While these findings suggest opportunities, challenges were raised in terms of expectations and requirements needed should bakers’ source locally.

A consistent, high level of quality and a reliable supply were identified as important factors for bakers considering the purchase of regionally produced wheat/flour.

In an open-ended question about the most important barriers commercial bakers see in purchasing regionally produced wheat/flour, cost was the most frequently mentioned.

Other perceived barriers included availability and quantity, suppliers and delivery and quality.

“The three most frequently mentioned barriers (cost, availability, supply) are scale-related and could be addressed by increasing the scale of production and distribution,” the researchers said.

Challenges of the shift

The highly centralized nature of the processing and quality control of wheat was identified as one of the main challenges in regaining local production, processing, and use necessary to have a relocalized grain economy.

Roles of processors and wholesalers would need to be clearly defined and the planning and building of infrastructure would need to be prioritized, researchers said.

The researchers also raised the point that there is no clear definition of ‘local’ when it comes to sourcing.

 

Source: Journal of Agriculture and Human Values
Published online ahead of print doi: 10.1007/s10460-012-9403-9 
“Commercial bakers and the relocalization of wheat in western Washington state”
Authors: KM. Hills, JR. Goldberger and SS. Jones

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