Coronavirus: Flour maker says rising pandemic demand is double their usual holiday peak

WATCH ABOVE: Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy in the faculties of management and agriculture at Dalhousie University, tells Mercedes Stephenson grocery supply chains are still adjusting to people being at home but it does take time.

If it seems like everyone and their uncle is suddenly baking bread during the coronavirus pandemic, that’s probably because it’s true.

Baking ingredients like flour and yeast have been flying off shelves across the continent in recent weeks, with Google Trends reporting an all-time high in the number of people searching “bread” last month.

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And for flour makers, all that apparent comfort baking is leading to a spike in demand.

“All indicators — from our flour sales to interaction we’re having with customers — are that people are baking a lot,” said Carey Underwood, director of mission-driven partnerships and programs for King Arthur Flour.

“Our sales volume for the last few weeks was double what we would see for fall and holiday bake, our busiest seasons.”

King Arthur Flour doesn’t sell in Canada, though is one of the main flour companies south of the border.

In Canada, consumers are more likely to see Robin Hood or Five Roses brands on their local shelves.

Both are owned by the Canadian branch of Smuckers, which Global News reached out to asking whether those brands had seen similar sales spikes in recent weeks.

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A spokesperson for Smuckers wouldn’t say whether the company has seen an increase in Canadian flour sales specifically but did say it has seen increases in baking supplies writ large.

“While we are limited in terms of sales information we can provide as a publicly traded company, we can share that we have seen increased consumption across our baking ingredients since many provinces have adopted ‘stay at home’ regulations and consumers increase their already strong affinity for at-home baking,” said Frank Cirillo, manager of corporate communications for Smuckers.

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Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution policy at Dalhousie University, also said he’s seeing those same trends when it comes to baking supplies across Canada.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson airing on Sunday, he explained that the shortages are a result of shifting consumer behaviour.

“Essentially, we have a different consumer walking into grocery stores these days,” he said.

“Instead of looking for quick fixes, lunch or dinner that day, people are looking for ingredients to use at home in their kitchens, which means that people are going to be looking for flour, yeast, sugar, butter, and we’ve all seen shortages across the country.”

Charlebois said that change is putting pressure on supply chains, which can’t always adjust as quickly as consumers demand.

That’s not a sign, though, that the country is going to run out of flour or other essentials, Charlebois explained.

“Supply chains are trying to cope with this shift and I think they’ve been doing a pretty good job overall but they can’t really commit over the long term because this pandemic will last only for a while,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect perfection. We are in the middle of a crisis so we should expect to see empty shelves here and there, but there’s always food on the way.”

A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2016 suggested baking could help people feel happier and feel like they are achieving personal growth.

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Canadian food blogger Julie Van Rosendaal said she’s among those who find baking relaxing and that she’s noticed a big jump in traffic on her website in recent weeks of people searching for bread recipes.

“I find baking incredibly calming and therapeutic,” Van Rosendaal said.

“The mixing and kneading, the process of focusing on a hands-on project that requires my attention but still allows my mind to wander (or for conversations to happen), and the smell… A house that smells of baking — any kind of baking — is a comfort to anyone.”

With the majority of North Americans sheltering in place in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19 in their communities — and no end in sight — it remains to be seen whether the bread-baking fervour will continue to rise.

But the experts have some simple advice: if the shelves are bare next time you shop for flour, don’t panic. The next shipment should be along soon.

While there, though, consider donating to your local food bank. Many are strapped for supplies and need donations from the public now more than ever.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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