Sesquicentennials are rare occurrences even in an industry as venerable as is grain-based foods. As a business whose longevity is recognized as the longest of any part of the food business, if not of all industry in general, milling still counts few companies that trace their origins back 150 years. That is one of the main reasons that the founding of Buhler A.G. in 1860 is being marked this year as much more than routine. It is extraordinary for that company, but it also provides an excellent reason for celebrating the entire grain-based foods industry and more specifically its equipment suppliers. This anniversary also brings focus to the many other notable companies around the world that make and provide the equipment and the engineering that have helped flour milling attain the global successes it has realized.
Without crediting any single factor for what is milling’s acknowledged superior performance in an economy that has experienced one of the worst recessions of modern times, there is no question but that the industry’s efficiency has been significant. Efficiency, measured by increases in the output of individual machines as well as plants, has posted remarkable gains in the past decade or so. Advances in converting wheat into flour, reflected in gains of two or more percentage points in the extraction rate, result from improvements in the process. Similarly, expansion in average daily capacity of milling plants, more than doubling in recent decades, is another benefit of technology. Hardly anything accounts more for overall gains in efficiency than the introduction of electronics in plant controls. Milling, which in the popular vernacular might be perceived as an "old" industry, has embraced this technology with a fervor that matches nearly any other industry.
Milling’s historical record includes many equipment companies that once loomed large and have since either vanished or been merged into enterprises no longer involved with milling wheat into flour. Buhler and its most successful modern-day competitors have pursued a policy different from equipment makers in other industries. That difference is reflected largely in their single-minded focus on making equipment and providing engineering services for the one industry called grain-based foods. Too often companies that provide capital equipment believe it advisable to diversify the businesses being served. In the end, though, they find themselves often not benefiting and frequently facing calamity because of downturns among its many customers.
This adherence to finding ways of building customers within the single industry – albeit one that operates in more countries than many other businesses — has also produced an awareness of the importance of helping the industry beyond the equipment being sold. Companies like Buhler, and others with similar commitments, recognize the huge importance of education to assuring maximum efficiency in plant operations. Similarly, these companies appreciate the merits of organizations like the International Association of Operative Millers in building not just camaraderie among those who run flour mills but in establishing instruction programs that contribute significantly to the well-being of milling businesses and to the efficiency of operations.
Tying futures to this single industry, as Buhler has done, or as many of its competitors also have done, has turned out to be an exceptionally wise strategy. Instead of being a mature business with little or no prospect for growth, flour milling in particular and also grain-based foods have registered gains in demand and production that are envied by most other food industries and excel all but the most innovative of modern corporations. And while enjoying growth in market size, successful equipment suppliers have kept pace with quality and varied needs of individual mills. There is hardly a better example of how customer loyalty is built than the way that milling equipment and engineering companies have sought to assure their customers of an awareness of needs, showing the way to make investments with great foresight while avoiding undue financial risk.