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Two months into the pandemic, why is it still so darn hard to find yeast and flour?

where to find yeast flour coronavirus pandemic
Photo via Marco Verch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Shoppers throughout the country have noticed that among a shortage of canned goods, meat, pasta, and toilet paper, there are two seemingly unlikely pantry items amiss: flour and yeast. 

Unlike toilet paper and sanitizing products, which can attribute shortages to early-pandemic hoarding, flour and yeast are scarce because of the influx of new bakers with more time on their hands. 

According to Nielsen, yeast sales were up by 647% on March 21, compared to the same week in 2019. John Heilman—vice president of yeast manufacturing for AB Mauri, makers of Fleischmann’s Yeast—told USA Today that three weeks of its inventory was “gone almost instantly.” 

At the same time, flour has also seen a dramatic increase in demand. Marketplace reports that King Arthur Flour’s sales are three times higher than usual. Matt Cox, vice president of marketing at Bob’s Red Mill, echoed that sentiment in an interview with HuffPost.

“So many folks have been taking up baking since the pandemic, whether to relieve stress, for entertainment, or out of purely practical need,” Cox told HuffPost. “As a result of this surging trend, staple baking ingredients like flour and yeast may be hard to come by.”

So, it’s not so much that there is a shortage of flour or yeast; the supply chain just hasn’t caught up with the demand. 

“An extended spike of demand hit the system hard and unexpectedly,” Robb MacKie, president and CEO of the American Bakers Association, told Business Insider. “We could have handled twice the normal demand. But five times the normal [demand] almost overnight, no one can prepare for that.”

Washington Post business reporter Laura Reilley said in the paper’s daily newsletter that the change in flour’s primary consumer from foodservice providers to individual bakers has also had to be addressed. 

“There is plenty of flour in the system,” she said. “But the lion’s share in the past seven or eight years has gone to food service (bakeries, restaurants, hotels) as people have baked less at home. Most of that flour is packaged in 50-pound bags. They would need to be dumped out and repackaged in five- or 10-pound bags, which requires lots of labor, additional expense, and some food safety risks.” 

Heilman assured customers that AB Mauri is not experiencing a shortage of raw materials, and it has already hired new workers to increase production. He said on April 23 that it could take one to two months before it can restock most stores. Other flour and yeast companies also said they have increased production and plan to restock stores soon. 

Sources: HuffPost, USA Today, Washington Post, Business Insider, Marketplace 


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