Flour output data points to eating trends

by Morton I. Sosland
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As useful as it may be to examine global trends in demand for wheat as food to measure how the grain-based food business is doing, hard numbers relating specifically to milling provide a more exacting basis for understanding the industry’s status. Thus, when the International Grains Council (IGC) released its supply-demand forecasts for the next five years through 2019-20 pointing to the upward move in wheat food use as slowing from the pace of the preceding five years, the desire to know where positive and negative changes might occur becomes urgent. The Council only points to broad-brush gains largely in developing nations of Asia and Africa “as wheat-based foods become more popular in place of traditional staples.” Additional detail is centered on global per capita wheat demand, which the IGC says is likely to hold steady at 66 kilograms with any total expansion driven by population.

Such calculations are important in determining prospects for global wheat supply-demand. Yet, they fall short when it comes to making decisions about matters like investing in flour milling to satisfy expanding markets. A much closer look is required. Here, too, the IGC plays the essential role through its annual compilation of national flour production.

Compiling such a list is no small task and the Council’s work here is recognized as being of special value. The latter is only diminished by those countries that appear unwilling to provide the IGC with numbers on milling output. The missing nations, mainly China, India, Australia, Iran, Pakistan and Morocco, comprise a list of large milling countries acting as if flour output needs hiding. That is particularly bothering when it is recognized that the two countries heading this list are largest in milling.

So far as revealing important data about milling operations in various countries is concerned, the latest IGC compilation, covering 2012, shows the largest increases in two countries that do not surprise – Indonesia and Egypt. With annual gains of 25% and 43%, respectively, production in these two affirms how output is striving to keep pace with expansion in demand for grain-based foods. No other nations in the annual flour output show two-digit percentage gains, but when the impressive expansion in these countries is put aside, the 2% upturn for the United States stands out. That is particularly so when the two U.S. neighbors, Canada and Mexico, show small decreases in 2012.

America’s output increase is even more significant when compared with the steep falls registered by European nations. German output fell 12%, contrasting with a 15% increase registered by that nation in the period beginning with 2000. France was off 1%, accentuating a dip of nearly 9% from the start of this century. United Kingdom production managed to hold steady in 2012, but showed the same drop as France from the century’s start.

The recent global leaders in flour exporting, Turkey and Kazakhstan, posted quite different flour milling results. Turkey’s flour output actually decreased by 2% from the preceding year and Kazakhstan showed a 4% gain. In looking for a way to measure how a small country that used to be a part of the Former Soviet Union has managed to compete for the leading global role in flour exporting, it is unnecessary to look beyond the expansion of 218% in Kazakhstan’s output in the period since 2000.