Rising to challenge of increased flour demand

Rob Munro, MD of Carr’s Flour

Home baking continues to enjoy its meteoric rise in popularity as a result of Covid-19 that is making flour one of the few items to still suffer shortage problems in retail outlets. Whereas things like hand sanitiser and toilet rolls have long returned to normal levels of availability in supermarkets this has not been the case for flour as shelves still remain largely bare in the category.

Rob Munro, MD of Carr’s Flour – that supplies the foodservice industry as well as retail with both branded and own-label goods, has been in the eye of this particular storm of demand and has had to adjust the business to deal with the massive increases in demand that have continued to stretch the company’s capabilities.

“We did 30-plus percent for a very short initial period in March and this immediately wiped out our strategic [reserve] stocks. By April when foodservice had declined our packaged goods [demand] remained strong and overall we were doing 95-110% of our regular total volumes,” he says.

Although supply into retail only accounts for 4% of the company’s overall volumes the level of production has been ramped up at its mills from 135,000 packets of 0.5kg, 1kg, and 1.5kg items to over 350,000 units per week over lockdown. This was only possible because the company had begun a phased investment – in December – in its kit to bring in more automation.

“Probably the last time people bought flour was years ago. We’ve seen a huge spike,” says Munro, adding that the hardcore of existing home bakers has been augmented by a new batch of people at home with time on their hands. “People have enjoyed the baking process, it’s entertained their families and it’s not expensive,” he suggests.

People have enjoyed the baking process, it’s entertained their families and it’s not expensive.

Interestingly the sticking point in the supply chain has not been a shortage of actual flour, according to Munro, but it has been down to a shortage of packing capacity for the smaller pack sizes that are destined for the retail market. There has been no problem for the likes of Carr’s supplying the larger 16kg, 10kg and 5kg bags to artisan and trade bakers.

Although demand is still outstripping supply in retail there will invariably be some fall off as more children return to school and greater numbers begin working out of the home again. But Munro reckons some of the extra demand will remain over the longer term.

“We’d not be still pumping out the numbers we are if it was not sticking. There will be more home baking. The country has embraced baking and will continue to do it, he forecasts.  

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider