Family-owned miller Bowmans was established one year after the end of the Crimean War, the denouement of which saw a rush of grain returning on to world markets; the outcome was a dramatic fall in grain prices that sent the US into a three-year depression. Compare that to today’s dwindling grain stocks and soaring prices - not to mention the fact we’re battling overseas - and the contrast couldn’t be any starker. "Changes in grain markets are not new to us," says an understated Guy Bowman, who has witnessed upheaval in the milling industry during his 42 years at Bowmans. The chief executive has just pulled the bunting down, following the firm’s three-day-long birthday celebrations. And while the stately age of 150 makes British Baker - at a budding 121 - look like a whipper-snapper, the firm is looking forwards, not back, with a new hush-hush heat treatment technology currently on trial. "We are well down the road on developing another generation of heat treatment, which is something we had as a world-first in 1963," he says. "It’s the basis of our cake flour. Because it is clean label - and a lot of starches are not - it’s attractive to manufacturers; while maize-based starches have become very expensive, heat-treated wheat flour is a less costly alternative." Using the technology, which limits amalyse enzyme activity to ensure consistent viscosity in flours and batters, the firm is expanding into foreign markets and launched a joint business venture three years ago in South Africa. "I wouldn’t rule out similar overseas ventures in the future," says Bowman. The original milling business, still 100% family-owned, was supplemented in the early 1990s by the addition of Bowman Ingredients (BI), which manufactures a wide range of coatings, batters, glazes, marinades, dusting and flavour systems for fish, chicken and vegetables. In 1992, the milling division invested £2 million in a new flour heat-treatment plant in Yorkshire. These investments saw Bowmans’ product range diversify further into fast-growing sectors such as ready meals and soups and sauces, complementing the existing customer base of biscuit and bakery manufacturers. bright future Meanwhile, the future looks bright for independent millers, he believes. "I think it’s all to be gained for the independents and there could be a lot of changes ahead for publicly-owned companies; I suspect independent family firms will be in a good position to pick up business in due course. We were the first milling company to achieve the EFSIS Higher Standard, and service and quality have proved more and more important over the years." With growing demand on cereal crops, the biggest challenge will be managing volatility in the grain market through longer-term contracting, he says. "We’re not subject to venture capitalist restrictions and diktats and we’re not publicly quoted, so we can take a longer-term view. We’re not averse to striking long-term deals and customers have benefited in this era of rising raw material costs. That way we all lock in prices at sensible levels and we’re not so vulnerable to the volatility." n ---- === Timeline === 1857 Founded by Samuel Bowman for his three sons, two of which exited the company, leaving James Bowman owner 1880 Chilled iron roller-mill invented 1900 Bowmans build Station Mill, Hitchin 1911 The company doubles storage capacity and enlarges its wheat-cleaning plant 1916 The First World War deprives the Bowman family of two elder sons 1939 World War II brings labour shortages and direct government 1947 Station Mill converts to electric power, but is then blighted by fire 1963 Bowmans develops its heat treatment system for flour 1969 New development begins at Ickleford Mill 1981 Station Mill closes 1992 A new heat treatment plant opens at Whitley Bridge; Bowman Ingredients launches 1994 Building on a production plant at Ickleford Mill begins and is completed in 1995 2008 Bowmans plans to launch "the next generation of heat treatment technology", currently on trial