As the world celebrates World Bread Day this month, the Philippine wheat flour milling industry also observes 64 years of wheat flour milling business in the country.
The country’s first flour mill is Republic Flour Mills (now known as RFM Corporation). It started operations in 1958 and still churns out thousands of bags of flour daily at its plant in Pasig City.
Seven other flour mills started operating later. Wellington Flour Mills (WFM) in February 1960; Liberty Flour Mills ( April 1961), General Milling Corporation in Cebu ( June 1961), Philippine Flour Mills (PFM) in Quezon Province (July 1961),Pillsbuty-Mindanao Flour Milling Company Inc. ( Pilmico Foods Corporation) in Iligan City in 1962, Universal Robina Corporation (URC) in 1970 and Pacific Flour Mills (PaFM) in 1976. PaFM has since been bought out by another food company.
From the eight original flour mills, the industry has grown to to 22 companies with plants spread out all over the country.
The other flour mills are San Miguel Mills Inc., Philippine Foremost Flour Mills, Morning Star Milling Corporation, Delta Flour Mills, Monde Nissin, Atlantic Grains Inc.,Mabuhay Interflour Mills Inc., AgriPacific Flour Mills (Rebisco) , Asian Grains Inc., Great Earth Inc, California Flour Mills, New Hope Flour Mills North Star Milling Company. Munchen/Big C Milling Company, Crown Asia Flour Milling Corporation. among others.
The Philippines is one of the world’s biggest consumers of milling wheat, purchasing an average of 3MMT of wheat annually mostly from the United States. Wheat is the raw material for the production of flour for baking and other food purposes.
The Philippines imports basically two types of wheat. The bulk of Philippine purchase is Hard Wheat, also known as Dark Northern Spring (DNS) Wheat due to the dark brown color of its kernel. Flour from DNS wheat which has around 14 percent protein is used for bread production. Its high protein content enables the flour to hold air inside the dough making the bread expand and rise, producing a soft chewy crumb. Around 60 percent of Philippine milling wheat imports is DNS. The other 40 percent is Soft White Wheat (SWW) with protein content of 9-10.5 percent. Flour from SWW wheat is used for production of pastries, cakes, cookies among others.
More than 50 percent of local flour production goes to the bakery industry for pandesal, loaf bread, monay, Spanish bread and other traditional products one usually sees at the neighborhood bakeries
Competition in the wheat flour business is intense to say the least. With more flour mills vying for their share of the market, mills have come up with various strategies to get ahead of the competition.
It is no longer enough to just produce bread flour or cake flour which was how it was done in the early days of the industry. Now, each flour mill has to provide products customized to meet a particular product requirement of it’s customers. Thus, flour mills now produce Noodle flours, either for ramen, pancit canton, instant noodles, wet and dry noodles, and many more just for the noodle market’s varying specified demand. There are also siopao flours, donut flours, pasta flours, and many more.
The uninitiated may not know it, but wheat flour is also used for the production of lumpia wrappers, ice cream cones, shawarma wraps, tablets for medical sector and as extenders for hotdog production.
Through the wheat flour business is traditionally centered on the production of flour for consumption of bakeries, restaurants, food companies and hotels among others, the industry has began diversifying its product line taking advantage of the versatility of its raw material wheat and the market’s demand for delicious snacks and other goodies. Thus, a number of flour mills now produce pasta products, instant and wet noodles, cookies and biscuits.
Others have also put up their own bakery lines such San Miguel’s “Kambal Pandesal” and URC’s “Baker John”.
The Russian-Ukrainian war has caused a severe disruption in the supply of wheat worldwide and this has led world wheat prices to go up. Russia is the world’s biggest wheat exporter and along with Ukraine, and these two warring countries hold around 30 percent of exportable wheat. With this much wheat supply put on hold, the rest of the world have to get their wheat supply elsewhere and at a higher cost.
But the Philippine wheat wheat flour industry is confident of weathering out this situation. The US supplies 95 percent of the country’s wheat requirement, and it continues to be a reliable source of wheat despite strengthened demand from other importers. The other suppliers are Canada and Australia, two countries that have kept its wheat exports going despite the supply crunch due to the Russian-Ukrainian situation.