Flour, Yeast Shortage Caused by New Hobbyists

If you have looked in your supermarket for flour or yeast recently, you have likely been disappointed. There is currently a shortage of both. It’s impacting many countries as people are turning to baking as a hobby. Baking is soothing. It’s an activity that fills time. It can be done with family or as a solo hobby. People wanted baked, comforting foods. Many people want to avoid stores and bake bread at home. All of this baking is adding up to a shortage of flour.

One baker, Zoe York, explained why she started baking bread in late March. “I like that it’s something I can do for my family that’s not just hitting ‘click’ and then sitting around worrying.” Baking is an active way of helping your family when ordering groceries doesn’t feel like enough. It’s a way of feeling self-sufficient and not dependent on grocery stores. Right now, when people have a lot of time at home, they can proof yeast at their leisure.

However, this newfound hobby and cooking preference is putting stress on an industry that usually can calculate how much supply it needs. The craze is frustrating people who regularly bake at home to make themselves healthy bread and now cannot find flour or yeast. Even online, finding these baking staples is hard.

However, the U.S. isn’t going to run out of flour. It’s like toilet paper: people are panic buying. Christopher Clark of the North American Millers’ Associating said, “The industry has access to grain, has capacity, and will produce products our customers/consumers want as fast as we can.”

Additionally, the first wave of baking frenzy has passed. Robb MacKie, president and CEO of the American Bakers Association pointed out that people who are hoarding flour aren’t going to be hitting the stores again because, “At some point, you run out of room.” Mr. MacKie explained that the current shortage isn’t a sign of a lack of raw materials, just the extreme surge in popularity. “We could have handled twice the normal demand. But five times the normal [demand] almost overnight — no one can prepare for that.”

Some folks are using the lack of yeast as a reason to learn about making sourdough starters. A sourdough starter takes five to eight days to make. But, while it takes some time, it’s not hard as long as you have flour. Once you have made it, you can feed it and use it as often as you like. The Boudin Bakery has been using the same starter since 1849. There’s something wonderful about the “mother dough” being used for 160 years: generations have enjoyed the same bread.

All of this underscores something officials and supermarkets have said: stop panic buying. Get what you need at the grocery store for a couple of weeks of food. Limit your trips to the store but recognize that the shelves are not going to remain empty. Panic buying drives shortages. If people buy everything the moment it hits the shelves, it leaves nothing for everyone else that day, but it will be back tomorrow. If we continue to buy too much constantly, it will cause problems for manufacturers. And, experts say, shortages could go on for months. While we all need food to cover lunches or meals we might have otherwise bought outside our homes, now isn’t the time to be buying in bulk.

If you can’t find flour and are desperate for a baked treat, there is always flourless cake!
April 13, 2020
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