Rising up from the ashes

by Arvin Donley
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After a fire destroyed its flour mill in Verdelot, France on June 26, 2010, French milling company Moulins Bourgeois didn’t waste any time planning and constructing a bigger and better facility.

A new mill, which replaced a building that was nearly 200 years old, was erected with daily flour production capacity nearly doubling from 250 tonnes to 450 tonnes, with annual production rising to 40,000 tonnes. The new five-story facility features a modern design and state-of-the-art equipment from Bühler AG, Uzwil, Switzerland, that gives the highly automated mill the highest level of hygiene and traceability of wheat and flour. The French consulting company, Bourbon, was involved in the design of the new mill.

Julien Bourgeois, one of several fourth-generation family members who are in leadership positions at Moulins Bourgeois, said the fire started in an electrical cabinet.

“Thankfully there were no injuries,” he said. “All the equipment in the mill was destroyed, but thankfully the wheat storage, cleaning section, flour storage and bran storage were not damaged.”

He said one of the biggest obstacles to getting the new mill built was obtaining a building permit following the fire.

“It was a big challenge, because the plant is close to historical monuments, such as a very old church, and the authorities asked for a special process for the building permit, which takes more time (three to six months),” Julien Bourgeois said. “This was a big challenge taking into account that the insurance compensation was only possible during the 18 months after the fire.”

The building permit was obtained in February 2011, general engineering began in January 2011 and the mill began operating Dec. 22, 2011, just three days before the end of the insurance compensation, he said.

The new mill features a second cleaning section with a light peeling process, 13 Antares roller mills, three Sirius plansifters, all of which are made of stainless steel to promote better sanitation. Moulins Bourgeois has obtained an ISP 22000 certification on the safety of food, thanks to the widespread use of stainless steel in the facility.

Additionally, a microdosing section with 10 micro-feeders type MSDF, were added to produce the right flour directly in the flow of the mill. The mill is equipped with a Bühler air management system.

Wheat storage capacity at the facility is 4,700 tonnes, while conditioning bin storage capacity is 560 tonnes, flour storage for bulk loading 1,600 tonnes and flour storage for bagging 400 tonnes.

Julien Bourgeois said about 70% of the flour produced in the mill is bagged and transported to customers while about 30% is transported in bulk shipments. These figures were reversed about 20 years ago, he said.

“One important challenge is to produce more and more of the flour in bags,” he said. “We are planning a big investment in 2013 in order to install a new complete packing line with new storage of 1,500 square meters for the bags. It means the logistics model will be completely new with a new approach.”

The component packaging, with a maximum size of 25 kilogram bags, will result in the total reorganization of the bagging of flour for every milling line.

Another new feature at the mill is Infraneo, a device that uses infrared technology to analyze unloaded wheat for the rate of protein, moisture and test weight.

Company history

The family-owned Moulins Bourgeois was established in 1895 when Leon Bourgeois and his brothers acquired a mill in Couargis, about three kilometers from the current mill, which is located about 80 kilometers east of Paris.

The Bourgeois family acquired a mill in Verdelot in 1910, which was bankrupt at the time. In 1930, Moulins Bourgeois closed the mill in Couargis and moved all production to the Verdelot facility.

During the last 30 years, there were numerous improvements made to the plant, including an expansion in 2000 that increased daily milling capacity from 120 tonnes to 240 tonnes.

Involved in the traditional milling business as well as specialty milling products that come from a multi-cereals mill on the Verdelot site, Moulins Bourgeois specializes in the production of Premium French flour used in making traditional French baguettes. It also is a major producer of mixed flour with many specialty flours with brand names such as Baguette des prés, Le Charpentier and Eclat de Lin.

“The main strength of the company is to offer to customers many, many products and each product is more or less a best seller,” Julien Bourgeois said.

He said the company, which employs about 60 people, sells much of its flour to local bakeries in the Paris region, and that the company’s natural and premium products are most in demand.

He said the company is reaching out to customers to help them improve their businesses.

“The customers are asking more and more for advice and consultation from the millers,” Julien Bourgeois said. “This means that the company is able to provide special training for the customers at the Bourgeois Bakery Center, or our five baking specialists go directly to the customers’ bakery. The Bourgeois baking specialists help the customers adjust the baking process in the case of new products and in the case of new processes. We also do this for foreign customers.”

Moulins Bourgeois offers a range of courses at the bakery center adapted for periods of one to three days for increasingly sophisticated training, according to the wishes of the bakers.

Julien Bourgeois said the company exports top quality and premium flour primarily to England, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Greece, China and Russia.

While some of its flour products are shipped to other countries, Moulins Bourgeois sources all of its wheat domestically within 100 kilometers of the mill in the regions of La Brie, La Beauce, La Champagne and La Picardie, known as the country’s best wheat-producing region.

The company said it will soon launch for its artisan bakers a new product, the “Baltic,” a Scandinavian-inspired black bread.

French milling industry facts

France has long been one of the biggest flour producers in Europe as well as the world.

The most recent figures from the French millers association (Association Nationale de la Meunerie Francaise ) show that in 2011 France was third among European flour millers with 4.37 million tonnes of flour produced, 15%, or 637,051 tonnes of which was intended for export. France ranks 11th in the world in flour production.

The French millers association noted that the share of exports in all exchanges of flour is more important for France (68%) than the other six major flour exporters in the E.U. (Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands).

There are approximately 380 milling companies with 450 milling facilities in France. Four companies — Grupe Nutrixo, Soufflet, Grandes Moulins de Strasbourg and Dijon Meunerie — account for 57% of the milling market. Turnover among French milling companies in 2011 was €2.1 billion, according to the French milling association, which represents 299 units of production or 95% of all of the nation’s flour production.

Other facts about the French milling industry include:

It uses about 5.56 million tonnes of wheat;
It employs nearly 6,000 workers;
More than 64% of the flour produced is used in breadmaking.
France, once the leader in bread consumption in Europe, has relinquished the No. 1 spot to Germany. It is estimated that bread consumption in France, which in 1900 was around 900 grams per person per day, is now at about 160 grams per person per day.

Baguettes are by far the most popular bread product with over 10 billion produced in France per year, which computes to a remarkable 320 baguettes per second.