As the coronavirus pandemic continues, American consumers have gone from being concerned about a lack of toilet paper in stores to being worried about the meat supply drying up because some processors have been forced to close due to working conditions. There is also a lack of flour at grocery stores, and it has become increasingly difficult to find online as well. One possible reason at the moment is people just keep buying up flour because more are baking at home.
Carey Underwood, the director of mission-driven partnerships and programs at King Arthur Flour, told CNN there is not a lack of milled grain in the U.S. and there is no shortage of wheat. The issue is simply the demand is up and more people are spending their time at home baking with flour. "The demand for all signature flours, but especially all-purpose and bread flours, is simply unprecedented and is outpacing the inventory in our warehouses," Underwood explained.
"Through our planning and communication with our mills, we were able to meet the initial spike in demand," she continued. "However, we anticipate grocery store shoppers will continue to see in-and-out supply as stores receive flour and restock shelves for a while to come. Our supply chain and logistics team is actively working with stores and distributors across the country to get our flour back on the store shelves."
Underwood said the wheat for the flour is still available, it just takes time to mill it, package it and sent it to stores. There is no need to worry for average Americans to worry too much about flour being unavailable at the moment. "Demand has outpaced the speed at which new product can be created and delivered, even as our mills run at full capacity," she said. "In some cases, getting more product onto shelves has been delayed within stores themselves as many are operating with fewer staff and reduced hours."
The lack of flour is not only an issue in the U.S. Supply was so low in the U.K. that a 1,000-year-old water mill in southwest England resumed regular production. The Sturminster Newton Mill sat dormant for 50 years and was being used as a museum until now. It has produced over 2,200 pounds of flour in just the past few weeks, about the same amount it would make in a year. It is now running at full capacity, packing 3.5 to 4 million bags of flour a week.
"We were set to open for the season when the coronavirus hit. Our first reaction was we have to close down and pack up," supervisor Pete Loosmore told CNN. "But we realized that many local shops had no flour in them and people were desperate for it." The mill was closed to visitors, so "we had a couple of tonnes of good quality milling wheat that we could use," he added.