Brits are turning increasingly to bread, the key use of flour in the UK, to compliment a healthy diet. According to the Federation of Bakers since the 1990s the British have upped their consumption of breads with added fibre, parallel to a rise in consumer awareness of the health benefits and the launch of new varieties onto the market. Volume sales are approximately 2.9 million tonnes, the equivalent of over 9 million large (800g) loaves every day.
The National Farmer's Union and the NABIM are looking to use this rise in awareness to improve the flour market and boost sales.
"There is an opportunity for the food and farming industries to collude on future campaigns promoting British flour using positive messages concerning nutrition and education. I look forward to progressing these ideas with the NFU in coming months," NABIM director general Alexander Waugh.
The UK bread and morning goods market is worth over £3 billion. The larger baking companies, such as Rank Hovis, produce 82 per cent of bread sold in the UK. Instore bakeries (ISBs) within supermarkets produce about 16 per cent and high street retail bakers produce the rest.
Between 1950 and 1980 bread consumption declined steadily as a result of changing eating habits and the introduction into the UK of a large variety of new foods from around the world.
During the 1980s bread sales stabilised and in the early 1990s increased as diet and health concerns started to drive the market, in particular for wholegrain/wheat variets.
A recent report from Euromonitor confirms the NFU/NABIM initiative to push nutritional benefits of flour. According to the Euromonitor research bread, in theory, shows more potential than other bakery products when it comes to the burgeoning functional food sector. British functional bread sales reached $12.1 million in 2003 compared to France's $0.3 million and Germany's $33.1 million. Although the rise in popularity of the low carbohydrate Atkins diet is expected to impact sales.
Despite a short downward blip in the mid-90s bread sales are once again stable, says the federation, although the impact of the popular US low carbohydrate on sales of carbohydrate food products in the US is starting to be felt in the UK.
In addition, the Euromonitor report suggests that despite the potential in the functional bread market, to date growth in the sector has not been as strong as it could have been, with a number of products - breads targeted at menopausal women or growing children, for example - failing to get off the ground.
But bread makers are starting to roll out more functional products. Earlier this year leading UK bread maker Allied Bakeries that holds around a third of the British bread market, launched a soy-enriched bread this month, said to lower cholesterol and improve heart health.
According to Francisco Redruello, packaged food analyst at Euromonitor, this weak performance was exacerbated by the fact that marketing efforts to communicate the products' benefits to consumers were only minimal at best - highlighting the sheer scale of the problem for bakery and snack producers keen to take advantage of the huge potential of functional products in these increasingly health-conscious times.
The industry link up announced by the National Farmers Union will have to tackle this marketing issue in order for the initiative to be successful.
"Both organisations agreed there was scope to work together on future campaigns to promote British flour using positive messages concerning nutrition and education," said the industry bodies in a statement.
The NFU added that it 'shared the view' that UK policy-makers should be urged to use positive nutritional messages in the current debate about diet and lifestyles. 'Simple facts about basic healthy foodstuffs are often lost in a maze of commercial diet promotions.'
Fortifying flour with folic acid - recommended for women of child-bearing age to help prevent neural tube defects - remains the focus of an ongoing debate in the UK.