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Retail flour supplies run low as consumers turn to home baking

By
Jessie Higgins
With bread aisles almost bare, more consumers are turning to home baking. File Photo by David Tulis/UPI
With bread aisles almost bare, more consumers are turning to home baking. File Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo

EVANSVILLE, Ind., March 27 (UPI) -- America's flour mills and bakeries are working overtime to meet the skyrocketing demand for baked goods amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Retail sales of baked goods jumped more than 60 percent the week of March 15, according to the most recent data from the Chicago-based analytics firm IRI.

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"In talks with our members, some places are producing two to three times as much baked products as they would on a normal week," said Robb MacKie, president and CEO of the American Bakers Association, based in Washington D.C.

Despite the increased output from industrial bakers, many grocery store bread aisles across the country remain bare. And with the number of people either choosing to -- or forced to -- stay home as the coronavirus pandemic grows across the country, more families are turning to home baking to meet their needs.

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"I think what we're seeing is people are going to the grocery stores, they're seeing the empty bread aisles, and they think, 'I can do that,'" said Sharon Davis, program director for the nonprofit Home Baking Association, based in Topeka, Kan.

The Home Bakers Association website has seen an increase in web traffic over the past weeks from people looking for baking tips and recipes, Davis said. The group plans to launch a new site in response to the interest within the next week that will offer recipes, ideas and other resources.

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The sudden increase in at home baking means that flour and other baking supplies also are running low at many stores.

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This is not because there is a shortage, said Christopher Clark, vice president of communications and administration at the North American Millers' Association, based in Washington D.C.

Like meat, potatoes and other staple grocery store foods that people have bought in bulk during the pandemic, the flour milling industry is simply struggling to catch up to the sudden spike in demand, Clark said.

"The flour, the grain, it is all there," he said. "It's just a matter of getting it milled, packaged and on the shelf."

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The majority of the nation's flour and other raw baking supplies go to industrial bakers. That supply line is still running uninterrupted, MacKie said.

"So far, knock on wood, we haven't had any challenges getting any of the raw supplies -- the flour, yeast, sugar, packaging materials," MacKie said. "Our industry has adapted to the current situation.

"Our supply chains have adjusted. There's a lot of things to worry about right now, but the one thing you don't have to worry about is the food supply."

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