Flour remains at the heart of UK food consumption. Wheat flour is a versatile and nutritionally valuable food and is used for making bread, biscuits, cakes, pies, pizzas, pastries, batters, coatings, and many other foodstuffs. The UK is selfsufficient in flour and also supplies most of the flour used in the Republic of Ireland.
Flour and bread are a major source of several vitamins and minerals for people in the UK, as well as being the most significant source of fibre. Nevertheless, bread is sometimes maligned in the popular press; it is notable that although bread consumption per person has fallen over the past twenty years, obesity rates have risen.
Flour remains at the heart of UK food consumption. Wheat flour is a versatile and nutritionally valuable food and is used for making bread, biscuits, cakes, pies, pizzas, pastries, batters, coatings, and many other foodstuffs. The UK is selfsufficient in flour and also supplies most of the flour used in the Republic of Ireland
The flour milling industry plays a vital role in the UK. With a £1.25 billion turnover, the industry strengthens the economy and supports Britain’s farmers by using predominantly homegrown wheat. Bread was the most popular item purchased in 2018/19 with Kantar data showing that 99.8% of households buy it; and, among other things, flour provides 37% of the fibre, 35% of the calcium and 31% of the iron in our diet.
The flour milling industry is a vibrant sector that combines traditional skills with modern technology to produce a wide range of flours. The UK is self-sufficient in flour with a small positive trade balance. Flour is used as the main ingredient in bread, but also in biscuits, cakes, pies, soups and a range of processed foods.
Like so many industries, in recent years the flour milling industry has continued to consolidate. There are now 32 companies operating 51 mills. The four largest companies account for approximately 65% of UK flour production. Many of the smaller millers have developed niches ranging from pre-packed flours to those for specific uses such as flours for speciality breads.
The UK flour milling industry remains the largest single user of domestic wheat. The usage of homegrown wheat is double the level of forty years ago, and in a normal year makes up 80 - 85% of usage.
As a result of advances in technology and the skill of the miller, the industry produces more than 400 different types of flour to meet increasingly specific customer demands for the vast range of products lining supermarket shelves. Much of the flour that is produced is sold in bulk to the large bakers and food manufacturers. Smaller amounts go to craft and instore bakeries; some is pre-packed and retailed direct to consumers. The other main products from flour milling are bran for human consumption and ‘wheatfeed’ used in the manufacture of livestock feeds.
BREAD & FLOUR REGULATIONS
There is a long history of specific regulation for bread and flour in the United Kingdom, dating back to at least the reign of King Edward 1st in the thirteenth century. The sector is still controlled by the Bread and Flour Regulations, although some the provisions have been overtaken by more general legislation on additives and weights and measures.
The Bread and Flour regulations specify that four vitamins and minerals must be added to all white and brown flour, but not wholemeal. These are calcium, iron, thiamine (Vitamin B1) and niacin (Vitamin B3).
These requirements were introduced in the middle of the 20th century to ensure that these nutrients were being consumed in sufficient quantity. The position was reviewed by government advisory committees at the end of the 1990s, reaching the conclusion that this statutory addition of nutrients continued to play an important part in the overall diet.
In the UK, wheat is the largest arable crop (by area) with an annual planting of approx. 1.9 million hectares. Production is centred towards the eastern parts of England with the east anglia, south-east and east midland regions together accounting for over half of the crop grown.
The annual UK production varies greatly, depending mainly on the climate, but is in the range 11 - 16 million tonnes. Average yields for feed wheat are 8.5tonnes/hectare with bread making varieties being slightly lower. This difference has decrease with the introduction of the newer high-yielding bread making varieties, making them in some cases as high-yielding as feed wheat varieties and therefore a very profitable option for farmers. Many specialist milling wheat farmers consistently exceed these average yields.
Wheat is the industry’s main raw material, with approximately 5 million tonnes milled annually to produce flour for consumption as food. Approximately 1.3 - 1.5 million tonnes of wheat are used by starch and bioethanol manufacturers in the UK. UK flour consumption was 59kg per person per year in 2018/19. About 60% of flour produced in the UK is used in the manufacture of bread products, with the remaining 40% being used in a huge diversity of food products.
Bread is bought by 99.8% of British households, and the equivalent of nearly 11 million loaves are sold each day. Approximately 60-70% of the bread eaten in UK is white and sandwiches are thought to account for 50% of overall bread consumption. Average bread purchases are the equivalent of 60.3 loaves per person per year. According to the government’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, median bread consumption per person is approximately 90 grammes per day, higher for men (113g) than for women (76g).
Large bakeries, which produce wrapped and sliced bread, account for 85% of UK bread production. In store bakeries within supermarkets produce about 12% of bread, with the remainder accounted for by high street bakeries. Around 15% of the wheat used by UK flour millers is imported - representing around 750,000 tonnes. UK millers import German, French, US and Canadian wheat.
The average UK wheat harvest is around 15 million tonnes of wheat, so there is enough quantity to meet the UK milling industries tonnage requirement. However, it is not all of the quality required by millers, and as such some wheat is imported. Canadian wheat is generally imported for bread-making purposes, because it has excellent characteristics and gluten strength which work well in a blend with UK wheats. French wheat is generally used in the manufacture of French style products where softer flours are required. German wheat usage fluctuates according to the quality of the British crop - if there is not enough high quality British wheat available in one year (owing to weather conditions), more German wheat will be imported.
UK mills can produce enough flour to meet domestic requirements, but some flour is imported (approximately 1% of sales), often for provenance. France (around 20,000 tonnes per year) is the country of origin for the biggest proportion of flour imports. And approximately 5% of UK flour is exported. The main destination is the Republic of Ireland (about 180,000 tonnes per year).
BREAD PURCHASING HABITS CHANGE
Forty-four per cent of Brits have changed the types of bread they buy, according to Delifrance’s Prove It: The Great British Bakery Report 2019. The latest edition of the annual report found that, of the proportion who had changed their buying habits, 60% buy wholemeal/wholegrain loaves, and 50% buy seeded.
It also found that uptake of the wellness and health trends was evident in bread buyers of all ages, with wholemeal/wholegrain and seeded breads most popular across the spectrum. Consumers said they would eat more bread if there were healthier options (40%), more flavour choices (21%) and alternative flours (21%).
“As the wellness trend continues, the category is being challenged to develop nutritionally balanced recipes with healthy inclusions and reduced salt across the board” said Stephanie Brillouet, marketing director UK, northern Europe and North America at Delifrance.
We’re seeing the market being driven forward by a continued consumer interest in fresh, traditional, handcrafted breads that offer premium, authentic experiences, as well as nutritious inclusions. And with sustainability and food waste at the forefront of the consumer mindset, smaller loaves are a popular choice, especially for top up shoppers. In Viennoiserie, plant-based options are on the increase, along with classic bakes such as butter croissants and chocolate pastries. These popular products are met with challenges. Wider pressures to reduce sugar and the price fluctuations of butter have impacted production and product prices” said Brillouet.
The report revealed that 42% of consumers would buy more croissants if there were healthier options, and 28% would buy more if there was more variety. Choice of flavour and vegan options were most important to the group aged 25-35.
London was revealed as the most health-conscious region of the UK, despite 43% of Londoners consuming more pastries than before. Two in three Londoners would buy more pastries if there were healthier options, while one in three would buy more if there were more gluten-free options. Similarly, consumers purchasing patisserie products are looking for something healthier, with nearly half (43%) saying they’d buy more if there was a wider choice of healthy options. Chocolate was found to be the favourite flavour for patisserie products, with 59% choosing it.
In the savoury market, the report found consumers were seeking a grab-and-go option for a busy day. Twenty-nine per cent of men revealed they ate a savoury pastry a few times a week, while 43% of consumers were eating them at least once a week. Women said they would buy more if there was a larger range of healthier options, and 17% of consumers said they would buy more if there were more vegan options. Lunchtime was the most popular day-part, with 50% of those who ate savoury pastries eating them for lunch.
Dlifrance concluded that the focus on health, wellness and veganism would continue into the 2020s. It’s just the beginning for vegan bakery in the mainstream market, and we’re excited to develop new techniques and ingredients to rival the tradition” said Brillouet.
Consumers are quick to take to social media with bakery. To wow the Instagram cohort, suppliers and operators will search for new ways to achieve that ‘colour pop’, delivering on the key trends of artisanal, healthy and indulgent - all at the same time! Of course, authenticity and storytelling elevate these experiences too, as provenance, clean-label recipes, seasonal themes and ingredients intrigue consumers who are looking for something unique.”