When Conservative leader David Cameron visited Cotswold miller FWP Matthews to see the company’s new facilities and learn about a partnership with French miller Moul-bie, he was a little surprised to be asked questions by British Baker (see panel opposite page). Yet in a short, but wide-ranging conversation, he answered willingly.

First, however, he told FWP Matthews managing director Paul Matthews that he was delighted to return to the mill after a gap of three years and see big changes, including the addition of a test bakery. He added: "I really love my daily bread, particularly crusty Cotswold Crunch which does not go on my expenses!"

The day began with a gathering of around 30 local farmers and customers. Paul Matthews welcomed David Cameron as his local MP and outlined the changes that had taken place in the past three years, including new offices, a test bakery, warehouse, blending plant and bag palletiser. The group’s morning agenda started with a presentation by Alex Waugh of the National Association of British and Irish Millers (Nabim), followed by a tour of the working mill and a bread-making session with a Moul-bie baker under the watchful eye of Moul-bie’s European director Michel Nguyen, not to mention the curious farmers and bakers.

Cameron good-humouredly rushed to keep up with his agenda and attend the talk given by Alex Waugh of Nabim, who told delegates that flour is present in 15-20% of all goods in the food chain, produced by around 30 businesses employing 2,500 people and 300 trained millers. He said: "It is extraordinary how efficient and intense production is, to be able to supply that percentage of the food chain."

Waugh also spoke about recent harvests and prices and how farmers must have the possibility of a return on what they sow. He said this year’s wheat harvest is good, approximately 15m tonnes, and protein content is higher than last year, but he added, "The cost of fertiliser for farmers has been way up on previous years, so production costs have also been high."

He then spoke about a schools education programme that the Flour Advisory Bureau (part of Nabim and also representing bakers) has devised. Visit www.grainchain.co.uk.

As Cameron departed, Paul Matthews’ thoughts returned to daily business. He told British Baker: "In spite of the recession there will always be opportunities; you must go and look for them. Tell people what you do and don’t hide your lamp under a bushel in this climate."

Moul-bie’s Nguyen expounded on the commercial partnership with Matthews: "It started 10 years ago. We supplied Matthews and set up the Ronde des Pains craft bakers training scheme which is still going to this day. Matthews distributes our range of flours and mixes to the craft bakery sector. We provide technical assistance with French bakers, demonstrating how to make excellent French breads. We exclusively supply and support the craft trade with merchandising equipment to produce artisan bread and supply our flours and mixes also into Bako."

He continued: "Now, however, our partnership has moved on. As Matthews’ business has grown, we have entered into a licensing agreement to transfer our technology and our Maquette (specifically sourced pure wheat varieties which are not blended) and then we commission the blend."

Matthews added: "Matthews purchases the wheat from Moul-bie for traditional baguette flours. They go under the Moul-bie name but it states on the bag ’milled under licence by FWP Matthews’. This provides our customers with authentic French flour, unique to Moul-bie and Matthews in the marketplace.

"Nowadays, customers are much more discerning than 20 years ago. They want authenticity and traceability. And by buying from us, they don’t just get flour but a great service."

Matthews in turn seems to get a good service from its local MP, though many attendees said they also expected a turnaround next year from MP to PM.