UK Flour Millers’ first annual review has revealed that UK flour milling businesses generate a combined annual turnover of £2 billion.

The trade body for the UK flour milling industry’s review also shows that, in 2023, the industry supplied 3.8 million tonnes of flour, milled using four million tonnes of UK grown wheat.

Flour is a key ingredient, UK Flour Millers said, being used in approximately a third of foods sold in UK supermarkets.

The review also showed that 2,000 people work across UK flour mills, from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The sector is benefitting from ongoing investment, with £270 million invested over the last ten years, including in five new mills, UK Flour Millers said.

Energy consumption per thousand tonnes of grain milled has fallen by almost 10% over the 15 years since 2008.

UK Flour Millers chief executive, Alistair Gale, said: “As a country we are essentially self-sufficient in flour.

“Our first annual review highlights this, alongside the fantastic, skilled people who work, day in day out in mills across the country underpinning food security and nourishing the nation, providing 20% of people’s daily energy intake.

“Our members are investing in both people and technology to ensure that this key ingredient, fundamental to the nation’s diet, is made as efficiently as possible to exacting quality standards.”

Breadmaking wheat shortage

The second wettest August to February since 1837 has severely limited the planting of wheat in the UK, UK Flour Millers said.

Additionally, current prospects for yield also look poor, with prolonged wet weather having damaged and stunted the development of wheat that farmers were able to plant.

The prospects for the breadmaking wheat element of the crop are even worse, according to UK Flour Millers head of technical, Joe Brennan.

“The poor outlook for the upcoming UK wheat harvest is going to pose a real challenge,” he said.

“For milling wheat this is exacerbated by the decline in popularity of high quality breadmaking wheat varieties, Group 1, which make up the backbone of UK flour milling demand.”

An estimate of breadmaking wheat production for 2024 based off the forecasted area and yields from previous years indicate the upcoming harvest could be the smallest in over ten years and down almost 40% on 2023.

The high prices of nitrogen fertiliser, which whilst down from peaks have continued to sit 40% higher than before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are also limiting production of breadmaking wheat that meets quality specifications, UK Flour Millers said.

This is reflected in the wheat market, with the spread between breadmaking and feed wheat prices since 2023 over twice as high as the average of prior years.

“We’ll be going into next season very low on homegrown quality breadmaking wheat, which will make next season even tighter,” Brennan said.