Rain, rain go away. As the country continues to experience strong winds and continuous rain, Gerhard Jenne contemplates the impact on bakery.
Last Sunday, on a jaunt to Kent, I found myself driving on a flooded road. No surprises there, you may think. More startling was a field next to the track filled with some very, very muddy beasts, and I was nowhere near the hippo pond at the local safari zoo.
What I looked at was a field of dairy cows, ankle deep in mud with no dry patch left to escape to. I felt sorry for them. Wet conditions are not good for their hooves - it can cause foot rot - and constant wet hair diminishes its insulating effect and causes them stress as they shiver.
As I drove on, I saw the rest of the farm: a group of shoddy barns and tumble-down sheds, a collection of discarded rusty machinery and a sprinkling of old tractor tyres thrown in for good measure! Two thoughts crossed my mind - if I ran my bakery business like this farmer runs his farm, would I be allowed to stay open? Immediately followed by, how will this bad weather impact on ingredients prices in 2014?
While on a global scale the FAO Food Price Index fell in January, as lower prices for cereals, sugars, oils and meat outstripped higher dairy prices, I fear this spell of extended adverse weather (as they call it on the news) will definitely filter through to commodity prices on a national level.
It brought back memories of another species that doesn’t like very wet and cold conditions – I’m not talking Gucci loafer-wearing Londoners, I’m talking chickens.
At Konditor & Cook we pride ourselves in only using organic, free-range eggs in our baking. It is one of our quality cornerstones. Price increases in chicken feed and the aforementioned weather of recent winters have made them increasingly expensive of late. In addition, the buying patterns of supermarkets dictate the egg producers in this country and it has become more lucrative for producers to switch from organically reared to free-range only... and we all know how the rules of supply and demand can impact on prices.
Despite that, our Lincolnshire-based supplier simply had to give up last winter. Her flock of hens had had enough of wading through mud and snow and were no longer in the mood for laying eggs. Coupled with high organic feed prices, she could make her business model stack up no longer. Through our trusted wholesaler we managed to source eggs from other flocks based in Kent and north Devon. However, the new supply came coupled with a hefty price tag - based on our annual usage it meant £30,000 straight off the bottom line.
I’m wondering how this spell of rainy weather and subsequent floods, will impact on other bakery ingredients: dairy, sugar beet, fruit and, more importantly, grain. While I come from farming roots, I cannot remember every detail of a farmer’s calendar, but I imagine that a lot of what was sown in September has been lost, and anything waiting to go into the soil will require some prolonged dry conditions very, very soon.
I don’t wish to paint too gloomy a picture - perhaps I should see the funny side? We don’t get cows doing hippo impersonations and politicians in waders making asses of themselves every year. And with the rains coming down once again, isn’t it time to put the kettle on and have something sweet? While the country appears to sink, our cake sales seem rather buoyant.