The love of baking at home – once spurred on by TV shows like the Great British Bake Off – is experiencing a revival, thanks to coronavirus, causing a shortage of flour in UK supermarkets and shops.
However, Alex Waugh, director general of the National Association of British & Irish Millers (NABIM) – the trade association for UK flour millers – has reassured bakers the country will not run out of essential ingredient.
According to Waugh, the UK produces around 90,000 tonnes of flour weekly, with the majority being snapped up by commercial bakeries and other food manufacturers. The flour is produced in bulk and delivered either in tankers or in 16kg or 25kg bags.
Only a small proportion – around 4% - is sold through shops and supermarkets.
“Ordinarily consumers purchase about 3,000 tonnes of flour a week in the shops – equivalent to two million 1.5kg bags. On average, each of the 27.5 million households in the UK buys a bag of flour every 14 weeks,” he said.
“However since the COVID-19 outbreak, and in response to the subsequent lock-down, both regular bulk buyers and consumers have been purchasing much more than normal. Inevitably, existing stocks have been quickly used up and many households have been unable to buy.”
Luckily, Brits are not in danger of having to forgo baking at home, as the UK milling industry has stepped up production to cope with demand.
“In response, UK millers have been working round the clock – genuinely milling flour 24-hours-a-day seven-days-a-week to double the production of retail flour in an effort to meet demand," said Waugh.
The industry is currently producing around 3.5-4 million bags weekly by running packing lines at maximum capacity. Production is limited by the capacity to pack small bags, though.
“Even at this rate, this is only sufficient for 15% of households to buy a bag of flour per week,” he added, calling on retailers and wholesalers to stock larger bags of flour that would suit the more ardent home baker.
“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.”