Potato woes underscore flour foods challenges

by Josh Sosland
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Josh Sosland

In a recent data briefing, the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture made a point very familiar to the grain-based foods industry — that per capita consumption of flour has been trending downward for the last 20 years. From a peak of 147 in 1997, per capita flour intake declined to 133 lbs in 2015 and appears poised for further slippage in 2016.

The E.R.S. went on to make a point a little less familiar, which is that the decline has been mirrored by other plant-based starches in response to diet trends such as the Atkins diet. The impact on per capita potato consumption has been more severe than wheat flour, showing an average decline of 1.6 lbs per year during this period, versus 0.7 lb per year for wheat flour.

Flour consumption has held up better than potatoes by other measures as well. While off from the recent peak of 147 lbs, per capita flour consumption remains 21% above the 1970 low of 110 lbs. Potato intake peaked at 145 lbs in 1996 and has hovered around 113 lbs in recent years, lower than any time since 1970, when per capita consumption was above 120 lbs. The versatility and mix of flour-based foods between healthful and indulgent represent an advantage but do not liberate baked foods from the persistent and severe “starch headwinds” identified by the E.R.S. 

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