Sliced bread

The wheat flour industry hopes to increase domestic demand by raising money for marketing and research through a flour checkoff for U.S. millers and bakers.

A town hall discussion on the checkoff took place April 7 during the American Bakers Association convention in Naples, Fla.

Christine Cochran, executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation, plans to finalize a proposal to submit to USDA later in the spring.

The USDA would open a proposed checkoff to public comment for 60 days, Cochran said.

The foundation conducted a stakeholder assessment in the spring of 2017. A steering committee of companies representing millers and bakers conducted an economic analysis and a consumer survey.

"We've known there's a declining per capita wheat flour consumption," Cochran said.  "The industry wanted to identify where they really felt a checkoff could most directly and positively impact this declining trend."

The proposed checkoff would be a 16-cent assessment per hundredweight of wheat flour used to produce "bread basket products," including fresh and frozen bread, bread, rolls, buns, bagels, naan, pitas, other flatbreads, English muffins and biscuits.

The checkoff would not include cereals, bars, crackers, pies, cookies, cakes, tortillas and products that a customer would purchase frozen.

If a grocery store or restaurant purchases a frozen product and bakes it for a customer to purchase, that would be assessed, Cochran said.

Cochran said 85%, or 13.5 cents per hundredweight, of the assessment would be paid by the baker, and 15%, or 2.5 cents, per hundredweight is paid by the miller.

According to the foundation, bakers would be responsible for collecting the assessments from millers and remitting them to the board along with their assessments.

In any market with declining market share, no one is particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of increasing costs, Cochran said. But she pointed to the industry's "momentum and excitement" for the project.

"They know, both intuitively and through research, that there are just shared problems at a scale that defy individual company solutions," she said. "If we believe it is important to tell our positive story and enhance industry reputation among consumers, then we have to do something."

The price of the checkoff would be "significant," but not "unreasonable for what we're trying to achieve," Cochran said.

The checkoff would raise approximately $15 million each year, Cochran said.

Historically, well-run checkoff programs result in a $5 to $15 return on investment for every dollar invested, she said.

Because the checkoff will only be be on bread flours, it wouldn't be applicable to soft wheat products, said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission.

"But in the big scheme of things, any funds that can go toward promotion of the industry is beneficial," he said. "Enhanced consumption and education about the positive benefits of wheat and bread products, that's only good for the industry." 

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