The overall size of the bread market in the UK and Europe is best described as static. However, there is one country where the industry has problems meeting the huge demand for bread products of all types. South Africa’s economy is booming and the baking industry there is rising to the challenges to supply bread of the right qualities.

The bread industry in South Africa was deregulated in 1992. Before that, the Wheat Board dictated what wheat should be grown, what type and weight of bread should be produced and how much could be charged for a loaf. There were no quality criteria set for the flours, nor goals for the wheat breeders. So farmers produced wheat that gave high yields, regardless of their suitability for breadmaking. The goal then was to produce a standard loaf as the staple diet for the population. Quality was not the driver in the marketplace.

free for all

During the first few years following deregulation, the price of a loaf was no longer set and a ’free for all’ emerged. Market forces began to take hold and many bakeries sprang up to meet the demand for products, but neither the plant bakeries nor the craft bakeries had any systems in place to check the quality of the flours supplied to them.

When the Wheat Board closed in 1997, the market changed to one that was consumer-driven. Quality standards, such as the falling number method to measure enzyme activity, were brought in for the flours. The low-quality, low-protein wheats were blacklisted and a wheat breeding programme was introduced to provide stronger varieties of wheat. In South Africa, it typically takes 15 years for the development of new cultivars to reach the supply chain.

Over the past two years, the pace of change has accelerated. The industry has fostered links with the legislators and the Wheat Grains Agricultural sector meets twice a year, when it is able to bring matters of issue in the industry to the relevant government ministers. Feeding into this system is the ’Wheat Forum’, a loose body comprising representatives from the wheat value chain - wheat producers, storage providers, traders, millers, bakers, consumers, researchers, government, seed companies and wheat breeders, quality laboratories, futures exchange and the Winter Cereals Trust. The Forum provides communication and exchange of new information between the different elements of the value food chain for wheat. It has a steering committee, which meets every two months, whose members comprise the CEOs of the ’movers and shakers’ in the industry. They can recommend areas where emphasis needs to be placed, as well as levies to be imposed through government statute.

In 2007, the bread industry is being driven by consumer demand for quality products and for products which were once seen as only within the reach of the better-off white South Africans. This has come about as population demographics have changed. The black South African population, who have now become more affluent, are eager to taste and have the experience of eating good bread products of many varieties. There is a decline in the consumption of maize, the staple diet of black Africans.

The demand for bread has also been stimulated by shopping outlets. In earlier days, bread was sold by hawkers from the back of a truck in the townships. This still happens, but there has been a gradual expansion of craft bakeries and supermarkets (large and small) into the former townships. The quality of the bread from these outlets has improved and has stimulated the demand further. Franchise operations, such as Butterfields and good-quality family bakeries, such as Fournos are situated in the many city centres and shopping malls that the booming economy has brought.

So how is the industry coping with the demands placed upon it for such quantities of bread? Until now, many parts of the industry have been and are still operating with old equipment which is past its ’use-by’ date. However, franchise bakeries provide new equipment and a ready-made operation for anyone who wants to become a baker.

The plant bakeries are increasingly investing in state-of-the-art new plant, including mixers capable of giving them the bread structure they are seeking, moulding equipment and robotics (for pan-cooling, stacking and delivery), coolers and so on. Plants are being designed to meet the technological requirements of the bread to be produced.


Equipment manufacturers are starting to provide a ’home-grown’ solution to the environmental conditions - high ambient temperatures, a range of locations from high altitude to sea level, and so on - and are even exporting their products to the UK, for example Dale Systems’ spiral coolers. In the supply chain, flour of the right quality for the products is beginning to be understood. Where miller and baker, along with ingredients supplier, understand the needs of the product and work together to provide the right raw materials and processing, the products are of high quality.

Some parts of the industry, which are commonplace in the UK, are in their infancy in South Africa. For example, frozen dough production is an emerging market and the demand for a supply of ready-to-bake products from the service sector is just beginning. Adventurous entrepreneurial bakers are starting to meet this demand.

As in the UK, the quality of the bread is being driven by the retailer and the discerning consumer. The issues we worry about, such as ’healthy’ and ’nutritious’, apply in South Africa too, although so far, salt reduction has not become an issue and content typically lies at around 2%.

This all sounds very upbeat and the future for the country’s baking industry has great potential. But like the rest of the baking world, South Africa is suffering a lack of skills. The government has funded training schemes, but the level of skills coming from these programmes is not meeting the demands of the industry. As in the UK, there are few qualified and experienced trainers available.

The South African industry is vibrant and evolving rapidly and bakers, large and small, have the same dedication to producing fine quality and varied products as the sophisticated markets in Europe. At the same time, there is a drive to develop products and processes of a uniquely South African nature and this is bringing all sectors of the baking industry and its supply chain together. We will watch with interest as the South African industry grows and develops its undoubted potential. n