Quality issues dominate discussion of international milling concerns at A.O.M. forum

by Teresa Acklin
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   From wheat harvests to consumer demand, quality issues sit high on the agenda of international millers' concerns, based on discussions during a forum at the 97th annual technical conference and trade show of the Association of Operative Millers, held April 24-28 in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.

   The forum included a panel of five milling officials representing various regions. Each participant identified and discussed concerns in the respective regions, and quality issues of one kind or another were near-unanimous choices.

      North America/U.S.

   Regulatory intrusion, customer-driven quality programs and changing mill ownership patterns are sources of concern in this region, Robert G. Reid, The Mennel Milling Co., U.S., said.

   He noted that far too many government regulations exist today, but the industry must not ignore safety and health issues because to do so invites further government action.

   The trend toward customer-driven quality programs raises concern, Mr. Reid said, because mills would be faced with new statistical processes and requirements, as well as pressure to reduce flour prices.

   Corporate mill ownership could affect quality because owners tend to focus on cost control, Mr. Reid said. This focus can lead to training and maintenance cuts, which may create short-term savings, but can compromise the quality of mill output.


   Millers in this area are concerned about the quality of the 1992 and 1993 U.K. and European wheat harvests, the reform of the European Community's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and mill automation, according to Robin Armstrong, Allied Mills Ltd., U.K.

   The 1992 U.K. wheat crop suffered from poor and variable quality, forcing U.K. mills to procure some types of wheat from other European sources.

   The CAP reforms are slated to take effect in July. Because prices for domestic and imported wheat will decline, expectations are that flour prices also should drop, Mr. Armstrong said. The timing of the reforms and lower new-crop prices mean the transition to new crop from old crop will occur much faster, he said, and mills will have less time to adjust, which could affect quality.

   Mr. Armstrong cautioned millers to take care in selecting automation systems. New, inexperienced companies are selling products at competitive prices, making it easy “to get carried away.” Millers should be sure a control system is designed to fit the mill, rather than trying to fit the mill to the control system, he said.

      Australia/New Zealand

   Wheat quality and procurement, consumer quality programs and mill performance are concerns in this region, Kevin G. Sherrie, Defiance Milling Co., Australia, said.

   About one-third of this year's Australian wheat harvest went for feed use, so procurement was a key issue for millers. The need for more varieties is an on-going issue, he added.

   Concern about quality assurance programs centered on whether consumers would be willing to pay for the necessary quality documentation.

   About 95% of Australian flour production is controlled by five vertically integrated companies, Mr. Sherrie said. Complacency and declining mill performance are risks, he said, but pressure from bakers trained by the companies has avoided this problem so far.

      Middle East

   Higher wheat import prices resulting from free-trade initiatives and the effects on the milling industry are current concerns in this region, Khaldoun Talhouni, Grand Flour Mills of Zerka Co., Jordan, said.

   The region generally is dependent on wheat imports, and exporting countries have competed for the business by subsidizing sales, Mr. Talhouni said. Free-trade agreements may reduce or end the subsidies, pushing up import prices, he said.

   Governments now are easing controls over the milling industry, encouraging expansion, Mr. Talhouni said. But higher import prices would pressure the industry to reduce flour prices at the same time it is attempting to expand and modernize. He said government assistance to upgrade and expand mills might become necessary.

      Latin America/Mexico

   According to Luis G. Cortes, Grupo Gamesa, Mexico, quality is a major concern in this region.

   Overall wheat-crop quality and the availability of specific qualities are on-going issues, Mr. Cortes said. Consumer demand for end products with higher quality also is increasing, he said.

   Other concerns are capital and operating cost control and training, Mr. Cortes said. No institutions in Mexico offer milling instruction, for instance, so operators must rely on on-the-job training, he said.