WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Per capita disappearance of wheat flour in the United States dipped in 2015 to the lowest level in 18 years and represents a cumulative fall of 14 lbs, or 10%, from the recent peak in 1997. The Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released on April 14 its compilations of domestic disappearance of flour in the U.S.
Per capita flour disappearance in 2015 was placed by the ERS at 133 lbs, compared with 135 lbs in the two previous years. The recent peak in per capita flour disappearance occurred in 1997 at 147 lbs.
The last year in which per capita flour use was lower than 2015 was in 1989, when per capita was 129 lbs. Yet, that figure had represented a considerable increase from the modern low in flour disappearance on a per-person basis, which was 110 lbs in 1971. That number marked the nadir of a downward trend that ruled in most of the first 60 years and more of the 20th century, except for wartime surges. At the turn of that century, per capita averaged above 200 lbs but gradually fell as diets diversified.
From the low point in the 1970s, per capita flour disappearance increased for almost 30 years to the 1997 peak. The 21st century has witnessed a weak trend in per capita disappearance, which fell from 146 lbs in 2000 to 133 in the past 12 months.
The recent downward trend in per capita flour consumption contrasts with the mostly rising course of total disappearance of wheat flour in the United States, as also measured by the ERS. Total disappearance in 2015 was estimated at 429.6 million cwts, which for all practical purposes the same as 429.8 million in 2014. The latter ranks as the all-time record in flour disappearance. It compares with 413.2 million in 2000 and 400.6 million in 1997, the year of the recent per capita peak. The latter also was the first year in which consumption exceeded 400 million cwts. The first time 300 million cwts was surpassed came in 1986. For most of the preceding years, flour use varied above 200 million cwts, and for many years was close to that total.
ERS computes these consumption figures using domestic flour production as compiled by a sister agency (National Agricultural Statistics Service) to which imports are added and exports removed. Flour production in 2015 reached a record total of 424.8 million cwts to which 14.7 million cwts of imports brought the total flour supply to a new record of 439.6 million cwts. That compares with 438.7 million cwts in 2014 and 430.9 million cwts in 2000.
Deducting 6.44 million cwts of flour exports and 3.53 million cwts of flour exported in the form of pasta and bread and similar products makes total wheat flour disappearance of 429.64 million cwts.
It is notable that flour imports, at 14.72 million cwts, were a new record total, except for a few years during World War II when exports exhausted domestic production and flour was taken from Canada. It was only in 2001 that flour imports first exceeded 10 million cwts. Contrasting with the record imports were the relatively small exports of flour. At 6.442 million cwts, the pace of clearances was the same low rate as in recent years when the U.S. government stopped subsidizing commercial flour shipments and also foreign aid. In 2000, U.S. flour exports were 16.005 million cwts. In 1947, when foreign food aid dominated, flour exports from the U.S. exceeded 98 million cwts.
Per capita disappearance figures are estimated by dividing the total disappearance by a population figure that represents the calendar year average and includes Armed Forces overseas. The 2015 population average was 322.99 million, against 319.17 million in the preceding year, a rise of 1%.
In estimating per capita disappearance, the ERS computes to showing a single digit of tenths. Milling & Baking News, World Grain’s sister publications has resisted showing tenths that seem to reflect accuracy for a figure that is subject to such widespread variations.