Small increase in whole wheat flour output

by Josh Sosland
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Production of whole wheat flour by U.S. mills in 2011-12 totaled 20,923,000 cwts, up 384,000 cwts, or 2%, from 20,539,000 cwts in 2010-11.

While the figure for 2011-12 was a record high, the year-to-year increase of 2% was the smallest since Milling & Baking News, sister publication of World Grain, began gathering this data in the mid-2000s. The production estimates are based on information gathered from 24 milling companies with a combined daily milling capacity of 1,501,000 cwts, accounting for 93.8% of U.S. flour milling capacity, as calculated using the 2012 Grain & Milling Annual, which is published by Sosland Publishing Co. Individual company data are kept confidential in the compilation of this survey.

The 2% growth rate represented a continuation of the deceleration in growth that was evident last year, when production was up 7% from 2009-10, versus a 14% gain the year before from 2008-09. Before that, whole wheat flour production was mired in a two-year slump with growth rates of only 2.5% in 2008-09 and 4% in 2007-08.

At 20,923,000 cwts, whole wheat flour production accounted for 5.1% of total wheat flour production during the previous four quarters. The whole wheat share of 5.1% compared with 5% in 2010-11, 4.5% in 2009-10 and 4% in 2008-09.

The growth in whole wheat flour production cast what already was a depressed picture for enriched flour in even more depressing light. In the 12 months ended May 31, total wheat flour production was 407,079,000 cwts, down 7,810,000 from the prior year total of 414,889,000 cwts. Excluding the whole wheat portion of the total, white flour production was 386,147,000 cwts in 2011-12, down 8,203,000 cwts, or 2.1%, from 2010-11.

Estimated whole wheat flour production for 2009-10 was revised downward slightly, to 20,539,000 cwts, versus the initial estimate of 20,572,900 cwts. Revisions are calculated based on the participation of different milling companies and corrections of older figures by individual companies.

While overall whole wheat flour production was up in 2011-12 from the year before, the typical flour mill did not experience an increase. To the contrary, of the companies indicating a change from last year, only seven showed an increase in whole wheat flour production. By contrast, 13 sustained a decrease and four showed no change. A year earlier, 14 companies posted a gain from 2008-09, six were unchanged and four declined.

The largest increase for a single company was 543,464 cwts (essentially accounting for more than 100% of the entire increase in whole wheat production) and the largest decrease was 172,825. The median change was a 3,080-cwt decrease while the average change was a 29,751 increase.

Of the 24 companies covered in the survey, only for four was 2011-12 whole wheat flour production equivalent to at least 10% of the company’s indicated flour milling capacity. An additional five companies indicated whole wheat flour production of at least 5%, meaning a total of nine companies indicated whole wheat flour production of at least 5% of capacity. In other words, 15 of the 24 companies could account for less than 5% of capacity with whole wheat flour production.

Many of the smallest producers of whole wheat flour barely milled any. Of the 15 with less than 5% of milling capacity represented by whole wheat flour, the median production of whole wheat was 1.2% of capacity. For 11 of the 15, whole wheat flour was 1% of production or less.

Production of whole wheat durum semolina in 2011-12 was 702,575 cwts, down 185,425 cwts, or 21%, from 2009-10. Whole wheat semolina data were submitted by eight companies accounting for 71% of U.S. durum milling capacity, as calculated by Milling & Baking News. Because the total was based on a smaller proportion of durum milling capacity than the overall flour milling figure, the whole wheat semolina figure likely is less precise than the total whole wheat flour figure. Additionally, the semolina data estimates may be susceptible to greater year-to-year swings than the total whole wheat figure (which includes the durum semolina numbers).