COVID-19: The importance of maintaining the supply of flour
by Alexander Waugh, Director General, nabim
Flour is a staple food throughout the world, and the UK is no different with about 12 million loaves of bread, two 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.
Since the early outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, nabim has highlighted the milling industry's desire to play its part in meeting people's food requirements. To be sure of doing this, we need to ensure that logistical challenges are addressed. Our supply chain operates on something close to a just-in-time basis with around three-to-five days of grain supply at mills; one-to-three days' worth of flour at mills; one-to-two 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 make this work, so the continuing availability of key staff including millers, engineers and drivers, flexibility on the hours they can work and delivery times, and the continued availability of fuel and electricity are the most immediate priorities.
nabim has been making the case to the government, and we are very hopeful that the critical nature of the industry will be recognised and addressed in various ways so that it can continue to operate at or close to capacity, despite staff absence related to illness or quarantine. Meanwhile, the industry has taken steps to protect its own staff by adapting working practice to minimise personal contact, extend the use of sanitisers and personal protection equipment
Ultimately, it is critical that all nations acknowledge 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. Flour is at the heart of the food chain, accounting for 20 percent 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 can ensure both that the challenge of coronavirus is addressed, and people are fed.