Success strategy for flatbread
by Andreas Zuber, Publications & Multimedia, Bühler AG, Switzerland
It is not so easy to find the high-quality flour needed to make traditional 'chapati' in Germany. Either one buys imported flour from a South Asian grocer, or, one follows a small country road to Elztal in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Biemer Mühle is the name of the small traditional mill that has secured the chapati flour niche market.
Biemer Mühle was just about to shut down due to hard competition in the German market at the beginning of the 1980's. The die-out of bakeries made it difficult as a supplier, and it could barely keep pace with the prices offered by the larger mills. Today's owner, Albert Biemer, recalls how his father wanted to close Biemer Mühle down for good. But Albert resisted. His passion for milling was just too big. The mill had been in the family for 189 years, and the location had an even longer history going back 350 years. Master miller and daughter, Ina, had worked tirelessly to ensure that the tradition of the mill would continue into the seventh generation.
When Albert Biemer met a guard from a nearby barracks who originally hailed from Pakistan, it was a serendipitous moment. The man was used to buying flour to make his flatbread from an Asian greengrocer three hours away. He wanted to find a locally produced product very much and, as a test, bought some wholemeal flour from the Biemer Mühle. He was so thrilled with the quality that he told his greengrocer in distant Frankfurt about it.
Albert Biemer decided to visit the merchant in Frankfurt and bring back a sample in the trunk of his car. This gave birth to the idea of dedicating himself to developing this niche product. It was Good Friday when he began remodeling his mill. His flour was too fine and wasn't even close to his sample. He returned to Frankfurt many times to have the greengrocer test his results, but the feedback was usually 'getting close'. Development eventually took ten years.
Albert Biemer's perfectionism, however, was rewarded, and the chapati flour 'Made in Elztal' made the rounds of both small and large Asian shopkeepers. Soon, Albert decided to expand his five-tonne mill to a 15-tonne mill, but this needed corresponding upkeep. The family members and assistants worked in three shifts to meet demand.
The price was zero free time, which is not a sustainable way to work in the long run. Investment needed to be made. Albert Biemer again took a sample in the trunk of his car, only this time to the Bühler company in Switzerland. It was very important to him to not make any compromises with the quality when increasing his efficiency.
Bühler came back with an offer for a total mill modernisation. The small mill was equipped with a WinCos plant automation system - a tool for planning production and controlling yield which is used by very large mills as well. Today, it is hard to think of the mill without the touch PC used for controlling the entire mill. Bühler also helped optimise the cleaning system and the grinding. The latter is done with the Diorit roller mill MDDY which is hardly surpassed when it comes to grinding efficiency and reliability. Today, Albert Biemer produces the same volumes as previously but only needs 10 hours a day for it. In return, he now has a family life again.
Biemer Mühle is currently exporting about 28 percent of its production volume, mostly to European cities. Albert Biemer appreciates the direct contact with his small Asian shopkeepers in Germany, which is why he still likes to deliver the chapati flour to many of them personally.
Chapati is an unleavened Indian flatbread that is made with a mixture of wholemeal flour, water and spices. It is a part of almost every meal in Northern India and Pakistan. It is often served with lentils, cumin and coriander. When Indians migrated to the African continent, it became known there as well. The flatbread often serves as a type of spoon when eating. There is also chapati flour made of barley, millet and wheat, or just pure wholemeal flour.