Coronavirus: Flour demand up 500 percent, producer says

Home bakers keen to keep busy and fed during the lockdown have pushed demand for flour up 500 percent for one producer.

Champion Flour has three mills going around the clock to keep up. There are no grain supply problems and shoppers should see plenty more flour on the shelves by early next week, chief executive Bruce Peden told RNZ's Checkpoint.

Home bakers, or supermarket sales, usually account for 6 percent of Champion's flour sales. But with many bakeries and cafes closed up, it is the home kitchen crying out for flour.

The 500 percent increase is unprecedented, Peden said, but he was expecting to see a correction soon.

In the past, surges in demand for flour have been regional, such as after the Christchurch earthquakes, he said.

"You've never had that demand pressure put on business like we are here where we're talking a national or even a global event, so we've never experienced this.

"The cafes aren't open, the restaurants aren't open, we've got children at home, we're locked down and we're looking to reconnect with our home baking, which is wonderful in the long-term."

But the demand caught Champion Flour a little bit unaware in the short-term, Peden said.

"Previously on our packing lines... we would probably run retail packing machines at two of our manufacturing sites probably 30-35 hours a week.

"At the moment we're running both of those machines for 120 hours.

"We've gone from a total of 30-35 hours to 240 hours of running those machines."

Peden said there had been many businesses closed in the lockdown, after thinking they could be open.

"Bakeries, the hot bread shops on the corner have closed down, some of the bigger manufacturers have closed down… We've seen demand on that commercial side decrease, therefore we can continue doing this as long as it takes.

"We're just moving from our commercial packing lines to our retail packing lines. It's easy, we're running our mills 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

The only time any of the three mills are closed is for preventative maintenance, and there is an ongoing supply of raw materials, he said.

"People talking on talkback about a lack of grain in New Zealand - there's no lack of grain, it's been a very good harvest year, the growers have done a great job."

At the supermarkets it is hot demand across the whole range of flours, Peden said.

Simple baking at home for him is making scones.

"Whether you're using the high grade or standard flour, self-raising or the Edmonds' scone mix, you're going to get a very nice product out of that."

His tip for good quality scones: "Don't overwork it, chill your water, and make sure it goes into a very hot oven."