“Our industry may be out of sight for the majority of the population, but that does not mean it should be out of mind. We may not have the glamour of high fashion or travel, nor the recognition of modern tech brands such as Apple, Google or Facebook, but by providing the basis of good nutrition throughout much of the world flour millers make a bigger difference to human existence than any of them.”
Duncan Monroe – President of NABIM, National Association
Dear readers of Miller Magazine,
Flour milling is one of the oldest of industries, dating back to the dawn of agriculture. There are many images of grain being milled in ancient monuments all over the world. The grain trade is nearly as old – the British museum in London has a “library” of several thousand small clay tablets like the one below, which are 5000 year old receipts for grain delivery from Mesopotamia.
Our business remains as important today as it ever was. Along with rice, wheat and products made from it remain the central part of the diet for the majority of people. And the overwhelming majority of wheat is milled into flour before being made into a myriad of foodstuffs. Even in the United Kingdom, where people have access to an abundance of food that previous generations could only have dreamt of, wheat flour still provides about 20% of food energy, and a similar proportion of important nutrients such as protein, fibre, minerals and B vitamins. As important, flour is the basis of so many foods that people enjoy eating – bread in its many forms, pasta, cakes, pastries etc. So flour millers are proud to be the source of both sustenance and pleasure for people throughout the world.
Perhaps because of this long history and tradition, public perception of our industry is, at best, a little old fashioned; in many cases, our ultimate customers are barely aware that the industry exists. Where they are aware of flour milling, the mental image is of a dusty miller working at a pair of stones in a windmill or watermill. We could and should do more to address these misunderstandings. Ours is a very modern and critical part of the food sector. Our mills are full of technical innovation, have very high hygiene standards and deliver consistent high quality food twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Our people are all well trained, have great expertise, are committed to their jobs and take pride in their work. Our industry may be out of sight for the majority of the population, but that does not mean it should be out of mind. We may not have the glamour of high fashion or travel, nor the recognition of modern tech brands such as Apple, Google or Facebook, but by providing the basis of good nutrition throughout much of the world flour millers make a bigger difference to human existence than any of them.
NABIM is the organisation that speaks for flour millers in the UK and Ireland. We have a long history of engagement with government and its institutions in the UK and beyond. We work closely with farmers, grain merchants, plant breeders, universities, research institutes, bakers, retailers and other customers on a range of topics. The flour milling sector in the UK is compact in European terms, with fewer than 50 mills producing about 4 million tonnes of flour. Our industry is continuously modernising, with new mills under construction every year. This process has allowed milling businesses to reduce their manufacturing costs by an average of 35% over the past fifteen years and hence remain competitive in a challenging business environment.
As we employ relatively few people, it is vital that they are of good quality and properly trained. For many years, NABIM and its member companies have invested in a distance learning programme that provides support and validation for training within companies. These courses are now followed throughout the world, with students in every continent (except Antarctica). We continue to develop the programme, for example with video resources and most recently a virtual mill. The idea of these and other additions – such as our advanced milling programme – is to find ways of teaching that fit with modern life and engage students increasingly accustomed to dealing with more visual means of communication. Sometimes, business owners and managers are concerned that training someone well means that they are more marketable and likely to leave the business. To which the appropriate response is this: if they are not trained it could be worse – they might stay.
Flour milling has both a great past and a great future. People will depend on the availability of wholesome food at an affordable price, and our businesses play an essential part in delivering that. It will be against many millers’ inclination, as we tend to be modest men who prefer to hide our light under a bushel, but we should not only be proud of what we do but we should also be prepared to speak up for our profession and the part we play in improving living standards for all.