Wheat flour is an important bedrock of the UK diet. This single ingredient is in about a third of all grocery products on supermarket shelves and provides 20% of the energy and protein consumed by the UK population. Additionally, flour makes a significant contribution to vitamin and mineral intake providing much of the fibre, calcium (great news for vegans) and iron (more great news for vegans) consumed in the UK. Flour is an ingredient with much to offer.
The quantities of flour milled and consumed in the UK each day are vast.
About 12 million loaves of bread, 2 million pizzas, and 10 million cakes and biscuits are made in Britain every day. Furthermore, data from Kantar shows that bread is purchased by more UK households than any other product – even toothpaste.
To meet demand, the UK flour milling industry processes 6.2 million tonnes of wheat to produce almost 5 million tonnes of flour every year. The industry is the largest single processor of British wheat. In 2019/20 85% of the wheat used by UK flour millers was home grown.
A culture of innovation & investment
Despite being an ancient tradition, flour millers are proud of the long-standing culture of innovation on which the industry thrives. As far back as 1901, millers embarked on a programme to assess the suitability of wheat varieties grown in the UK for flour milling, work that continues to this day, with some 7,000 tests being carried out annually on the suitability of new varieties to help breeders and farmers produce the best wheat.
Investment in People
95% of the flour milling worker workforce has studied towards the UK Flour Millers flour milling qualifications.
The resulting improved quality and reliability of homegrown wheat, together with advances in baking technology, has led to the high usage of domestic wheat, which helps ensure wheat flour remains a reliable, stable and sustainable ingredient.
The range of domestic wheat varieties and UK milling systems allows the production of a huge range of flour types, each suited to different end uses. Imported wheat – sourced mostly from Germany, Canada, France and the USA – is milled mainly for quality characteristics that cannot be found in domestic varieties.
Improvement in productivity
People and skills
The flour milling sector has consistently invested in its people. Every year, between 5% and 10% of the industry’s workforce are enrolled on at least one of UK Flour Millers world renowned distance learning courses. More bespoke programmes for developing senior staff are available, and businesses also invest in company specific schemes. Average earnings are well above the norm for food manufacturing, and on a par with advanced engineering sectors such as aerospace - further evidence of industry investment in its workforce.
To support on-demand learning and create a central hub for all the industry’s training, UK Flour Millers has invested in the development of a virtual flour mill. Students can investigate individual machines and the way they work together.
Virtual tutorials mean that the most is made of time allocated to training, and individual businesses can use the virtual mill for their own bespoke training support.
Flour exports have grown steadily in the last five years and in 2018 amounted to 245,000 tonnes. Together exports of flour, mixes (which have been growing rapidly) and doughs were worth just over £230 million.
Other flour-based products such as bread, biscuits and cake accounted for a further £900 million of exports, bringing the total value to over £1.1 billion annually. This represents significant value addition to approximately 700,000 tonnes of wheat (worth around £110 million) required to make these foodstuffs.
UK flour millers have invested heavily in new and renewed facilities during the last ten years. This has delivered improved efficiency and led to steadily improving labour productivity – around 2.5% per year compared with the average in UK manufacturing of 0.5% and 0.9% in food manufacturing over the same period (source: ONS).
Alongside infrastructure improvements, the UK milling industry is focusing on capturing the data it generates and how this can be applied to improve mill and supply chain performance.