There’s a lot going on in October - the British Society of Baking Conference on Tuesday October 9 at Coombe Abbey, Wawickshire; our own Bakers’ Fair at Bolton Arena on Sunday October 14 from 9.30am to 4pm; and a major morning conference on the future of Bakery education for craft and plant bakers and college tutors on Tuesday October 30 at Bakers Hall, London, EC3.
But there is also a huge amount going on in the industry this week. Finsbury Foods has bought Anthony Alan and Harry Kear has sold his stake in Rathbones.
Though nothing trumps the fact that Rank Hovis will be raising the price of flour by £85 per tonne and ADM has already announced a similar price rise (pg 4).
The amount sounds incredible, doesn’t it? And it translates into a bread price rise of up to 10p on an 800g loaf. But, as I am sure you know, it is not just the UK that is experiencing huge rises in flour and other commodities.
This week the Wall Street Journal in the US carried the headline: ’Historic surge in grain prices’. It went on to state: "Rising prices and surging demands for crops are producing the biggest changes in global food markets for 30 years."
Kansas wheat is up 70% or more. "The days of cheap grain are gone," confirmed Dan Basse, president of AgResource, a Chicago commodity forecasting company. Meanwhile, Italian shoppers have been urged to boycott pasta (with no success!), Pakistan is curbing wheat exports, Russia is considering doing the same and the already hungry people of Zimbabwe have now run out of bread completely.
We are in uncharted territory because all the predictions I have read suggest the situation could escalate over the next decade. Why? Because demand exceeds supply, harvests are bad, conventional cropland is being used to grow biofuels and a growing middle class in developing countries wants more milk and meat, so more grain is being grown for livestock feed (a cow has to eat six pounds of grain to put on a pound of weight).
The biggest struggle for millers and plant bakers is to figure out how to pass on the price increases to the supermarkets. I hope the multiples will be realistic and accept that today’s consumer is informed and will pay up. They did when coffee went through the roof. Now it’s the turn of bread.