A TRADITIONAL flour mill in Oxfordshire has made international headlines this month because it is one of many across the UK working around-the-clock to ease the national flour frenzy during lockdown.
The coronavirus baking boom has made it hard to find the non-perishable goods and the historical Wessex Mill based in Wantage has seen an unparalleled surge in demand from buyers – so much that the Ney York Times newspaper ran a story on ‘pandemic-baking Britain’.
While the business is tiny in comparison to many of the UK’s flour mills, Wessex Mill that mostly trades with wholesalers across the country has increased production of small five-kilo bags by five times since the beginning of the pandemic.
Emily Munsey, who runs the 125-years-old business with her father Paul Munsey, is a fifth generation flour miller.
To keep shop shelves full the family has had to recruit eight more employees after some were in self-isolation.
The family also added afternoon and night shifts to keep the flour mill running a 24-hour operation every day.
Originally, staff were working seven days a week but after two months of ‘exhausting’ labour has been scaled back to five to give people weekend breaks.
Ms Munsey, who has been doing 12-hour shifts, has worked at the family business for only three years and said she was ‘dropped’ in it.
The miller has had to learn a lot in a very short time but has been supported by her father who has 40 years of experience in the industry.
She explained that the demand started a little over a week before the country entered the government lockdown as enthusiastic bakers with time on their hands turned to making sourdough and banana bread.
Ms Munsey added: “The demand has been good for our business as we have never produced so much flour in the past.
“It has slowed down a bit but we still sell so much.
“I do not see the demand going back to normal until people are allowed to eat in restaurants again.”
However, Ms Munsey pointed out the problem is not that the country does not have enough flour.
With the majority of the industry used to packaging the produce in commercial sacks, mills have struggled to adapt to small bags quick enough.
Wessex Mill also has an online shop where Oxfordshire locals can buy bread flour from but Ms Munsey said traffic to the website has become so high that they are only able to open the service for 15 minutes every day.
Home-tailored flour bags have become so rare on supermarket shelves that some UK retailers like Morrisons and Asda have taken it upon themselves to solve the national flour meltdown.