Not by bread ALONE

by Teresa Acklin
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   Recent developments in the wheat processing industry in Colombia are typical of many South American countries. The advent of trade pacts, such as the Andean Trade Pact, resulted in deregulation of wheat purchasing in Colombia in 1992, and exposed the Colombian milling industry to true competition. The results of deregulation on the Colombian milling industry were immediate and dramatic.

   Since deregulation, competition for flour market share in Colombia has resulted in discount flour prices. The milling industry went through a period of rapid attrition and consolidation immediately following deregulation, and mill modernization has been encouraged.

   The baking industry in Colombia is dominated by thousands of small family bakeries, while the market share of industrial bakeries remains at about 10%. About 70% of bread production is a product called aliñado, a hearth bread made from a formula that is extraordinarily high in fat and sugar.

   The Colombian pasta industry, facing changing consumer preferences and competition from imports from other Latin American countries and from Italy, moved to modernize production and began to import durum wheat to make premium pasta.

   Until deregulation, the Colombian government agency Instituto de Mercadeo Agropecuario (IDEMA) controlled all wheat imports. IDEMA discouraged competition within the Colombian milling industry by determining the quantity, quality (class and grade) and origin of wheat imports and by assigning wheat to mills on the basis of a quota system and at a fixed price, regardless of the purchase price.

   IDEMA policies protected small milling operations by assuring them of a continuing market share, but the wheat quota system impeded growth and discouraged investment in larger mills.

   Smaller mills once formed groups to import wheat in sufficiently large quantity to keep freight costs competitive to those paid by larger mills. However, after deregulation some companies aggressively sought increased market share by reducing flour prices. Many of the smaller, less efficient mills were forced to close or were taken over by larger companies.

   In 1992, there were about 100 mills in Colombia, grinding about 800,000 tonnes of wheat per year. Installed capacity was close to 1.5 million tonnes because wheat quotas were partially based on rated capacity.

   By the end of 1994, there were less than 80 mills in Colombia. Today, there are about 50, and the attrition will likely continue.

   Wheat consumption in Colombia is low by Latin American standards. Domestic wheat production has ranged from 50,000 tonnes to 100,000 tonnes in recent years. From 1987 to 1991, about 700,000 tonnes of wheat was imported each year, and total wheat consumption was equivalent to about 25 kilograms per capita, less than half that of neighboring countries. In 1992, imports rose to nearly 900,000 tonnes, and that level has been increasing at a rate close to 6% annually.

   The origin of imported wheat also changed slightly. Prior to 1992, the United States was the dominant supplier of wheat to Colombia. Although the U.S. has continued to be an important supplier of wheat since deregulation, other countries, most notably Canada, have increased their presence. In the 1997-98 shipping period, slightly over 1 million tonnes were imported, almost exclusively from Canada (60%) and the United States (40%).

   The increase in wheat imports and the greater diversity of suppliers were a direct result of competition. In a deregulated environment, impediments to expansion and investment were largely removed. Also, as mills acquired the freedom to import wheat without IDEMA involvement, quality became more of a factor in wheat purchasing. Quality was defined not only by processing performance, but also by return on investment.

   To gain a marketing advantage, Colombian millers tried alternative wheat suppliers, including Europe and Saudi Arabia. A few years before deregulation, Colombia began to import Canadian hard red spring wheat. Recent success with Canadian western red spring wheat assured Canada's continued role as a major wheat supplier to Colombia.

   Traditionally, except for soft wheat destined for the confectionery industry, virtually all wheat coming from the United States for bakery flour was hard red winter wheat. The United States has remained an important wheat supplier, but hard red winter wheat imports have declined and hard red spring wheat (dark northern spring and northern spring) imports have increased.

   Australian wheat has been used with some success, but Australia is at a considerable logistical disadvantage to Canada and the United States. Argentinean wheat has played a minor but consistent role in the supply of medium-level protein wheat.

   Deregulation brought about rapid rationalization in the Colombian milling industry and has encouraged investment. Many mills have been modernized, and some new mills have been built. Specialty flours, including premixes and custom flours for the industrial bakeries, are also available.


   It is estimated that there are over 25,000 bakeries in Colombia. A typical bakery is a family-run operation serving a small area, using one to five 50-kg flour sacks per day.

   The typical small Colombian bakery is very labor intensive. Many small bakeries do not have a mixer; flour, water, yeast and other ingredients are mixed by hand in a trough. Those bakeries that have mixers generally use slow speed wishbone or claw mixers.

   Sheeting rolls (known as dough brakes) are the most popular method of developing dough. Dough is put through the sheeting rolls until it achieves a smooth velvet texture. The dough is then scaled, divided and made up to produce a wide range of bread sizes and shapes. The bread is baked after proofing for 45 minutes to an hour, often under ambient conditions.

   About 80% of bread produced in Colombia is hearth bread and buns. The most popular product is aliñado, a high-fat, high-sugar hearth bread. Aliñado formulas typically include about 10% sugar and 12% fat; eggs are sometimes included in the formula as well.

   The richness of the formula varies from region to region in Colombia. Some of the richest formulas are in the Cali-Palmira area where fat contents of over 20%, sugar contents of over 10% and liberal use of eggs are common.

   Because the vast majority of bakeries in Colombia are so small, virtually all flour is marketed in 50-kg bags, and a single flour type is used for all bread products. Flour enrichment, including folic acid, was introduced in Colombia in 1997. Mills also add improvers, such as fungal amylase, ascorbic acid and azodicarbonimide, and many bakeries also add improvers. Potassium bromate is not allowed as an additive in flour mills but is permitted in bakeries.

   Industrial bread plants make up less than 12% of the market in Colombia, but their share of the market is growing. Typical products include pullman and open-top pan breads, tostados, aliñado, rolls and croissants, often made from a single flour.

   Many industrial bakeries are simply a group of small, labor-intensive bakeries on one site, sharing a common oven area. Slow speed mixers followed by sheeting roll passages are commonly used to achieve dough development, but some of the more modern plants have high speed mixers and do not use sheeting rolls.

   Most industrial bakeries require mills to meet minimum specifications, including factors like ash content, protein content, alveograph P/L and W and farinograph stability. Industrial baking processes may be short or long (sponge-and-dough) depending on the bakery and the product. Rich formulas for all products, including pan breads, are common, with fat levels ranging from 6% to 10%.

   A major development in the Colombian baking industry has been the arrival of the Mexican industrial bakery giant, Bimbo. Bimbo opened a plant in Bogota in 1997 as a joint venture with Noel, a Colombian confectionery processor with headquarters in Medellin. The venture has been a success, and Bimbo quickly acquired a large share of the industrial bread market in the Bogota area.

   Bimbo products do not have the traditional rich formula and are of very high quality, retailing at significant premiums over products of other industrial bread competitors. Its success has demonstrated that discriminating Colombian consumers are willing to pay a premium for quality bread. Bimbo's market share has been achieved partly at the expense of other industrial bakeries, but mainly by increasing the overall sales of industrial bread in supermarkets and minimarkets.

   Approximately 10% of total wheat consumption in Colombia is used in confectionery products. Domestic wheat, which is generally soft and low in protein, is suitable for the cookie and cracker industry. The imported raw material of choice is U.S. soft red winter wheat, averaging about 55,000 tonnes per year.

   Even before 1992, wheat purchasing for confectionery products was less regulated than wheat purchasing for bread. The Colombian company Noel has imported soft wheat for many years. The company has a flour mill in Santa Marta, on the north coast of Colombia, which produces flour exclusively for its processing plant in Medellin.

   Flour for other confectionery companies, such as Nestlé, have been and continue to be supplied by contract. Even before deregulation, wheat milled for the confectionery industry was not included in the quotas allocated by IDEMA, giving mills with soft wheat milling contracts an opportunity to utilize some excess capacity.

   The pasta industry utilizes the remaining 10% of total wheat consumption in Colombia. Until recently, all pasta manufactured in Colombia was made from common wheat. Many mills utilize from 4% to 12% of high-quality patent coarse flour or farina for the pasta industry.

   Competition from foreign pasta manufacturers in Venezuela and Italy, in particular, forced Colombian pasta manufacturers to improve quality in order to maintain market share. Modern processing plants using high-temperature drying were required to improve product texture. The introduction of durum wheat in 1997 also required construction of several new mills and renovation of others in order to mill durum wheat semolina.


   Improving economic conditions in Colombia and changing consumer preferences prompted the country's largest flour miller to begin manufacturing premium pasta made from durum wheat semolina.

   Harinera del Valle S.A., a family corporation established more than 60 years ago in Pasto, in the southern part of the Colombia near the Ecuador border, processes approximately 300,000 tonnes of wheat per year in eight milling units located in six different plants in Bogotá, Cali, Palmira and Pasto. In 1997, the company modernized its Aguila pasta plant in Cali and commissioned a dual purpose semolina mill (common and durum wheat) adjacent to the pasta plant.

   Because it was uncertain how quickly durum wheat pasta would become popular in Colombia, the company decided to build a mill capable of milling common wheat into farina for traditional Colombian pasta or durum wheat into semolina for premium-quality, world-class pasta.

   The existing building and some existing equipment were utilized. Buhler Ltd., Uzwil, Switzerland, proposed a diagram that produces semolina from common or durum wheat with a maximum particle size of less than 355 microns, while minimizing flour production. The resulting product is relatively fine, but suitable for production of premium-quality pasta on two new state-of-the art Buhler pasta lines in the adjacent pasta plant.

   The wheat cleaning process includes flow balances, an air-recylced combi-cleaner, indented cylinders to separate long and rounded seed with recycling of rounded seed, scourer and aspirator. Capacity is 5 tph for durum wheat.

   First conditioning includes an MYFA sprayer with automatic moisture control (Aquatron). The initial tempering time is three hours, and there are three tempering bins with 40 tonnes capacity each. Common wheat conditioning time is no more than nine hours. The longer conditioning time softens the endosperm, resulting in a finer product, more flour and less brightness in pasta.

   Durum wheat is normally conditioned in two stages. Simultaneous conditioning of more than one wheat type in the three tempering bins allows for changes in grist without much downtime.

   In order to mill low-moisture desert durum from the southwestern United States, Harinera del Valle decided to install an intensive dampener (tri-motor type) for initial conditioning. The current tempering device will be used for final conditioning.

   Second cleaning and conditioning involves a scourer, aspirator and light pre-break temper (spray type), with a tempering time of 20 minutes.

   The milling diagram has a rated capacity of 105 tonnes per day for durum and 98 tonnes per day for common wheat. Roll stands, manufactured by Ocrim S.p.A., Cremona, Italy, comprise five break passages, a third break with a coarse and fine passage, three sizing passages, three corrugated reduction (compression) passages and five smooth roll reduction passages. Ten Buhler MQRF purifiers and two sifter units with a total of 24 sections also were installed.

   The mill flow allows immediate changing of wheat grist by simply adjusting roll settings. Air settings and purifier and clothing also must be changed to ensure proper stock purifier performance. Capacity also must be reduced to avoid overloading sifters due to changes in stock distribution.

   The best quality flour is made on the corrugated reduction (C1, C2 and C3) passages. For premium pasta, it is best to avoid using flour from the sizing or smooth reduction passages.

   For semolina, about 65% of product is between 200 and 300 microns, with about 25% being less than 200 microns. When blended with first-quality flour, over 50% is less than 200 microns. Ash contents run near 0.70% for semolina and 1% for first-quality flour.

   In order to make world-class pasta, Harinera del Valle purchased two state-of-the-art lines from Buhler, including a 2,000-kilogram-per-hour, computer-controlled long goods line, featuring Turbomatic (80oC) high-temperature drying, which reduces drying time to about six and a half hours, and a 1,750-kg-per-hour short goods line with a Polymatic press and Turbomatic drying.

   The Polymatic press uses a twin screw extruder to rapidly produce a homogeneous dough that is fed directly into the extrusion chamber. Its advantages include better hygiene and faster die changeover when changing short goods shape.

   The combination of better pasta-making equipment and the inclusion of various amounts of durum wheat has resulted in a product that has received positive response from Colombian consumers. Harinera del Valle's premium pasta brand, Conzazoni, which contains a high proportion of durum wheat, has acquired a small niche position in the market and the company is optimistic that its market share will increase. A second pasta brand, La Muñeca, also is doing well with Colombian consumers.

   The Colombian milling industry will continue to adjust to deregulation. Consolidation will likely continue to reduce the number of mills. In a competitive environment, bakeries are becoming more demanding, and mills are responding by providing more specialty flours, including premixes.

   Competition is also being felt in the baking and pasta industries. The success of Bimbo may signal a shift toward higher consumption of industrial bread, and possibly a trend to leaner bread formulas. However, although the popularity of aliñado may begin to decline, it is likely to dominate the Colombian bread market for the foreseeable future.

   Competition in the pasta industry is spurring investment in more modern production technology and the use of durum wheat for some premium pasta products. Better domestically produced pasta products should spur pasta consumption in Colombia.

   This article, first presented at the Association of Operative Millers' 1999 technical conference and trade show in Fort Worth, Texas, U.S., was co-authored by Enrique Payeras, administrative and technical manager of Harinera Del Valle, Cali, Colombia, and James Dexter, senior research scientist of the Canadian Grain Commission.