COVID-19: Maintaining the supply of flour
The importance of flour
Flour is a staple food throughout the world, and the UK is no different with about 11 million loaves of bread, 2 million pizzas, and 10 million cakes and biscuits made every day. This can be achieved thanks to a daily production of about 14,000 tonnes of flour. Roughly one third of all the food and drink product lines in a typical UK supermarket contain flour, so it really is central to the food production system.
Our supply chain operates on something close to a just in time basis with around 3-5 days of grain supply at mills; 1-3 days’ worth of flour at mills; 1-2 days flour requirement at bakeries; and daily deliveries of bread to supermarkets and other retail outlets.
We need a steady supply of wheat to mills and flour to bakeries in order to keep the supply chain running smoothly: so millers invest heavily in ensuring continuity of supply for wheat, electricity, fuel and other key ingredients and ensuring that critical staff are available to run mills and manage the system.
Critical nature of the flour milling industry
Millers are very much aware of their critical role in the supply chain, and their responsibility in keeping the nation fed. During the Covid crisis, Government recognition of the situation helped in creating the necessary flexibility to deal with risks associated with staff absence and shifts in demand. Meanwhile businesses quickly took action to protect their staff by adapting working practice to minimise personal contact, extend the use of sanitisers and personal protection equipment.
UK Flour Millers action: Best practice guide, Industry data collection, Regular updates
UK Flour Millers has worked with government and colleagues in the supply chain in the production of best practice guides on the logistics of grain handling; the use of face masks in the (food) workplace.
Provision of daily situation reports from members and regular updates from UK Flour Millers helped to ensure that the industry was in a position both to highlight and respond to developments in good time.
As it became clear that capacity to pack small bags was limiting supplies to retailers, we took the step of creating a map of wholesalers and other outlets also able to supply flour, albeit in larger bags and non-standard packaging, in order to help meet the peak of consumer demand in April and May.
Although the peak of the crisis seems now to have passed, issues continue to arise with potential to affect supply continuity (for example in relation to quarantine and test and trace) The Association and its members will continue to respond in order to maintain supplies of flour to a full range of customers throughout Great Britain and Ireland.
Continuing supplies of flour
Flour is at the heart of the food chain, accounting for 20% of the energy and protein in our diets and nearly one third of dietary iron and calcium and an even bigger share of dietary fibre, as well as providing a range of other minerals and vitamins. It is the job of the milling industry to ensure that people get the food they need, and the role of government to facilitate this in difficult circumstances. By working together, we have so far ensured both that the challenge of coronavirus is addressed, and people are fed. This has been helped as all nations have acknowledged the necessity of allowing food production to continue and the importance of trade in both grain and ancillary materials such as packaging in the manufacture of food.