When its original mill reached 30 years of age, Bakex Millers Ltd. started down a path of expansion that has seen the Thika, Kenya-based company grow flour production from 150 tonnes per day (tpd) to 625 tpd.

Bakex opened its first mill in 1983 and completed its first expansion in 2012, replacing the original mill with an ultra-modern facility with a capacity of 250 tpd supplied by Bühler. With the high quality of products produced at the mill, demand significantly increased and Bakex added a new mill in 2017 with a capacity of 300 tpd, also supplied by Bühler.

That $8 million project took five months to complete and included a steel mill building, wheat and flour silos and bulk loading and packing. Space in the greenfield project was left for an Atta flour line, which was commissioned in 2018.

Located about 40 kilometers from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, the family-run operation now has three milling lines and storage capacity of 40,000 tonnes.

Over the past few years, consumption of Atta mark 1 flour has been growing in the local market. Atta is a wholemeal wheat flour, originating in India, that is used to make flatbreads like naan, chapati, roti, paratha and puri.

“Atta is also being imported from India and sold at sky-high prices as there is no producer in Kenya,” said Rohin Shah, finance and investment executive with Bakex. “We wanted to be the first producer of this kind of flour in Kenya and also give Kenyans a more authentic and healthier Atta flour.”

The Bühler PesaMill produces authentic whole wheat Atta flour with taste and texture identical to Atta flour produced on traditional Chakki stone mills. One PesaMill can replace up to 20 traditional stone mills and it is able to produce different Atta flour characteristics based on market requirements.

Atta addition

Bakex said the Atta mill is the first major facility in the region and will give the company a competitive edge in that market. The mill took about two months to complete and was commissioned in December 2018.

Compared to traditional stone mills, the PesaMill is more hygienic, energy efficient and higher yielding. Steel rolls eliminate the possibility of contamination by stone abrasion or chemicals and they don’t have to be replaced or redressed as frequently as millstones.

The high-compression PesaMill was specially designed to meet the requirements of Atta flour production. The process is based on an effective circulation system, which increases the yield by 1.5% compared to traditional stone mills. Product that has not yet reached the desired size is returned to the milling process for further processing.

Along with Atta flour, Bakex produces home baking, biscuit flour, bakers flour and whole meal flour. About 30% of the flour Bakex produces goes to its bakery, Broadway Bakery Ltd. The rest is sold to independent bakers and biscuit manufacturers throughout Kenya as well as to distributors who sell Bakex’s home baking flour and Atta Mark 1 flour.

Shah said the company has gained market share in the 50-kg flour bag industry and currently has about 10% of the market. Bakex owns the trucks it uses to transport its finished products.

Wheat consumption in Kenya has been on an upward trend and is expected to reach 2.7 million tonnes in 2019-20, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). The increase is driven by an expanding and robust food service sector. The FAS said there is a growing preference for wheat products in rural and urban areas.

“The proliferation and growth of international pasta, confectionery, and breakfast cereal brands in the Kenyan market also points to favorable demand trends in wheat and wheat products,” the FAS said.

Local production accounts for less than 20% of total consumption. Farmers are shifting to more competitive enterprises such as barley, horticulture and dairy, the FAS said, and wheat yields are constrained by widespread prevalence of wheat stem rust, soil degradation and the use of recycled seed by farmers. Imports in 2019-20 are estimated at 2.4 million tonnes.

Bakex sources its hard and soft wheat locally and internationally from Russia, Poland, Canada, Argentina, Ukraine, the United States, Australia and others, depending on the specific requirements.

Byproducts, which include bran, pollard, crushed wheat and wheat germ, are used in animal feed production.

Production process

The mill built in 2017 was constructed alongside the existing Bühler-supplied wheat mill. It is five stories tall and occupies 1,300 square meters. Initial storage capacity was 24,000 tonnes to serve both the old and new mill but has since been expanded to 40,000 tonnes.

Bühler installed six bucket elevators with capacities ranging between 13 tph and 50 tph. Conveying elements included self-cleaning chain conveyors with a capacity of 130-tph as well as a screw conveyor from the silos to the bucket elevator.

Wheat is transferred to raw wheat bins by a series of pneumatic pipes. Flow balancers make sure there is the proper discharge of the grain to the cleaning section.

The cleaning section includes the latest Combi-Cleaning machine that functions as a de-stoner, classifier, separator and aspirator. Combining all these functions in one machine allowed Bakex to save on space and power consumption. There is also a magnetic device and a 17-tph scourer, which is the final first cleaning step before tempering. The automatic MYFE Moisture Measuring device determines the grain moisture and initiates moisture addition for optimum tempering and conditioning.

After tempering, the grain passes through the SORTEX A optical sorter, which is able to detect dark defects such as foreign grains, ergots and discolored grains; light defects including light braid, spelt and straw; and other defects such as abnormal shape, mycotoxin infection and other foreign material.

At the heart of the mill are the MDDP and MDDQ roller mills, which offer high capacity, reliable grinding, high sanitation, a swing-out feed module for access and a gravimetric product feeding system. All parts in contact with product are either stainless steel or other food grade material.

Bakex has three MPAV sifters that offer increased energy savings, effective sieve cleaning, high sifting capacity, a sanitary design and reliable operation.

All equipment is properly aspirated, ensuring a clean, dust-free environment at all milling sections. The aspiration is important at all levels as it prevents dust build up, which can lead to dust explosions as well as dirty surfaces and poor-quality products, Bakex said.

Each section of the mill has necessary monitoring equipment such as sensors and a scale, ensuring the right flow is achieved at all levels. The whole plant is automated using the WinCos automation plant control that allows for centralized monitoring of the entire milling process as well as generating real time reports on the various aspects under monitoring.

Bakex has maintained a long-term relationship with Bühler because of its high level of service and quick response to any issue.

“They have a high level of respect for Bakex, and their machinery also has proven to be of very high quality and durability,” Shah said.

Bakex also has a good relationship with the Nairobi-based African Milling School and has sent staff and millers there for training. One staff miller has graduated from the school and another is currently enrolled in the milling course.

“We intend to send our staff every year through the milling course,” Shah said.

With its most recent expansion last year, Bakex currently isn’t planning a new project, but it is certainly a possibility down the road.

“We have undergone a major expansion and thus are not looking to expand further just as yet, but we now aim to create more market share and increase sales volumes to enable greater demand, which may then facilitate the expansion of a new plant in the long term,” Shah said.