Canada’s biggest bread maker is struggling with the inconsistent quality of Canadian milling wheat.
Connie Morrison, Canada Bread’s vice-president of marketing, told reporters on the sidelines of the Canada Global Crops Symposium in Winnipeg April 12 that Canada’s reputation for providing the Cadillac of wheat is slipping.
“Everybody viewed Canadian wheat as the gold standard and now we are getting feedback from our other business units that are asking, ‘what the heck?’” Morrison said. “Canadian wheat isn’t as good as it used to be, is the feedback we’re hearing. It pains me because I am a proud Canadian.”
Canada Bread uses around 300,000 tonnes of Canadian wheat flour a year. The company is owned by Mexican-based Grupo Bimbo and sources Canadian wheat for some of Bimbo’s bakeries in Latin America.
Canada Bread started seeing inconsistency in Canadian wheat flour’s functionality two years ago, but it was “really prevalent” last year, she said.
Canada Bread paid $1 million last year to buy gluten to add to its recipes when Canadian wheat failed to deliver enough, she said. When gluten is lacking, loaves of bread don’t rise as high as required.
After visiting some of Canada’s foreign wheat buyers last fall, Canadian officials said complaints about weak gluten wheat had declined from previous years.
Customer complaints go back four or five years. The Canadian Grain Commission says it’s the combination of increased production of varieties on the lower end of acceptable gluten strength and growing conditions.
Consolidation of Western Canada’s grain-handling system has also resulted in less natural blending, also credited with boosting wheat quality uniformity in the past.
During her speech to the symposium Morrison attributed increased inconsistent wheat quality with the end of the Canadian Wheat Board’s sales monopoly in 2012. However, she later said it probably had more to do with the increased production of weaker gluten strength wheat varieties that occurred around the same time.
Morrison said Canada Bread is looking forward to changes to Western Canada’s wheat class system starting Aug. 1, 2018, which will see lower gluten wheats removed from the premium milling Canada Western Red Spring wheat class and to a new class called Canada Northern Hard Red.
“I think we do have the best-quality wheat, but… it can be great one day and then the next day not so great,” Morrison said. “If we can consistently achieve great outputs then I think we’d be better off, but it’s that inconsistency that’s creating some challenges not only in our bakeries but in our other businesses.”
One grain industry official said Canada Bread might have to get more involved in selecting wheat under contract from farmers like British Baker Warburtons. That company has a laboratory in Winnipeg to test the wheat it buys through Richardson International and Paterson GlobalFoods.
“We’re working with the (Canadian) millers in the interim to see if there is anything we can do different… maybe specing it a little differently,” Morrison said. “We’re obviously open to anything that would help improve the quality and consistency.”