Retailers face flour shortage due to rise in home baking

Home baking has seen a significant surge in popularity since the coronavirus outbreak
Home baking has seen a significant surge in popularity since the coronavirus outbreak

Supermarkets and retailers are facing a shortage of flour as people turn to baking during life under coronavirus lockdown.

While the UK is self-sufficient in flour, producing about 90,000 tonnes every week, shops are witnessing a shortage.

Most flour is produced in bulk and delivered either in tankers or in 16kg or 25kg bags to bakeries and other food manufacturers.

Only a small proportion – around 4 percent of the total flour milled is sold through shops and supermarkets, the National Association of British & Irish Millers said.

Ordinarily, consumers purchase about 3,000 tonnes of flour a week in the shops – equivalent to two million 1.5kg bags, the body added.

On average, each of the 27.5 million households in the UK buys a bag of flour every 14 weeks.

Alex Waugh, director general of NABIM - the trade association for UK flour millers - said that since the Covid-19 outbreak, both regular bulk buyers and consumers have been purchasing 'much more than normal'.

"Inevitably, existing stocks have been quickly used up and many households have been unable to buy," he explained.

In response, UK millers have been working round the clock – 'milling flour 24-hours-day-seven-days-a-week' - to double the production of retail flour in an effort to meet demand, Mr Waugh said.

The equivalent of 3.5million to 4 million bags have been produced weekly by running packing lines at maximum capacity.

However, production is limited by the capacity to pack small bags, so even this is only sufficient for 15% of households to buy a bag of flour per week, he added.

"One option is for retailers and wholesalers to stock larger bags of flour, which might be suited to more regular home-bakers. This would require a change in shopping patterns, however.

"Otherwise, it will be a question of time before the surge in demand reduces enough for this enhanced level of production to meet requirements and allow stock levels to be rebuilt," Mr Waugh said.