135 lbs again: per capita flour use steady in ’14

Extending what has been a period of unprecedented stability, per capita disappearance of wheat flour in the United States was 135 lbs in 2014. The estimate, issued by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture along with its April “Wheat Outlook,” was precisely the same figure as in 2013 and was within a single pound of the per capita figure of every year but one dating back to 2009.

The stability in per capita consumption of recent years, which really dates back to near the start of the 21st century in 2002, stands in marked contrast to the experience of the 20th century when consumption began by its downtrend to past the half-way mark followed by a third of a century of dramatic gains toward the century’s end. During that 100 years there was hardly two years of per capita being unchanged, much less anything approaching the recent record.

Those earlier movements yielded wrenching changes, with per capita consumption dropping from 224 lbs in 1902 to a low of 110 in 1971, only to snap back upward to the recent peak of 147 in 1997. After a fairly rapid 10-lb downward “correction” from that high to 136.9 lbs in 2002, per capita consumption has held within 2 lbs of 135 in 12 of the last baker’s dozen years.

While the per capita consumption of 135 lbs was down from 136.9 lbs in 2002, overall domestic flour disappearance increased over this time span, reflecting population growth. Domestic disappearance in 2014 was placed by the E.R.S. at new record high of 430,743,000, up 0.6% from 2013 and up 9% from 394,082,000 cwts in 2002. From the recent low of 413,519,000 cwts in 2011, total utilization of wheat flour has gained 17,224,000 cwts, or 4%.

Per capita disappearance is computed by dividing the estimate of total wheat flour usage by the average monthly population. The average population in 2014 was 319,173,000, compared with 316,839,000 in 2013. The population has risen slightly less than 1% per year over the past decade or so and in 2014 was up 11% from 288 million in 2002.

Flour production in 2014 was 425,936,000 cwts, up slightly from 424,550,000 in 2013 and up 8% from 394,700,000 cwts in 2002. The faster growth of domestic disappearance than flour production over the past decade reflects the gradual but steady growth of flour imports. In 2014, flour and product imports totaled a record 13,842,000 cwts. Imports were up 23% from 11,291,000 cwts in 2002. Before 2000, annual flour imports were consistently smaller than 10 million cwts. For instance, in 1995, flour imports were 8.9 million cwts and flour exports were 23.6 million cwts, a dramatically different picture from 2014 when imports were 13.8 million cwts and exports were only 5.4 million.