Fresh flour mills nurture connection between consumers and farmers

In a small warehouse near the southern edge of Vancouver, a man scoops freshly milled flour into brown paper bags stamped Flourist that will soon ship out to customers hungry for fresh, additive-free baked goods.

Farmers building connections

Flourist and other fresh flour producers have seized on rising demand for whole, traceable baking ingredients, as well as a stronger connection between consumers and farmers.

Flourist's cofounders wanted to make fresh flour — the type without any additives and that needs to be stored in a fridge — available to Canadians.

"Flour should be consumed fresh after milling and it just wasn't something we had access to in grocery stores at all," says cofounder Shira McDermott.

She and her business partner purchased a custom-built stone mill from a family-owned company in Austria in 2014, but it wasn't until the spring of 2017 that they managed to overcome regulatory hurdles and start fulfilling orders.

They now mill about a dozen varieties and ship to customers across North America, including dozens of restaurants, mostly in Vancouver. They plan to open a bakery later this year.

Food trends

Recent health trends, like the shift toward gluten-free and anti-carbohydrate diets, pushed Canadians to eat less bread and turn to more premium varieties, according to a recent industry report from market-research firm IBISWorld.

But Dara Gallinger, co-founder and CEO of Brodflour, a mill and bakery in Toronto, says there's a market now — albeit a small one — for artisanal bread.

Garret Jones, who runs Vancouver-based Lakehouse Foods, a bread subscription service, recalls that five years ago when he tried to sell fresh milled flour at the farmers' markets, there wasn't much interest.

Now, the general awareness around how food is made is growing, he says, and the demand for artisanal bread is likely to increase.

Alternative markets for farmers

These companies also provide an alternative buyer for farmers.

Will Robbins is one of three partners operating the family farm he grew up on about an hour west of Saskatoon, Sask. He was looking to shorten the supply chain for his crops, and develop closer relationships with bakeries and flour mills. He learned about Flourist and now sells his French lentils and red spring wheat to the company.

He wanted to make the shift because he thinks it's important people understand where their food comes from. A cartoon sketch of his face graces the Flourist boxes containing his products.

It's also a financial benefit to him.

Direct relationships

"The more as a farm we can get out of the commodity markets and into direct relationships with people the more we sort of protect ourselves from the swings of the commodity market pricing," he says.

The farm currently sells about five to 10 per cent of its crops outside commodity markets, he says, but he hopes to grow these direct relationships to 25 or 40 per cent in the near future.

"I'm rooting for those companies to do well and they are for me too... It's gratifying on a personal level."

Bottom line

With growing consumer awareness about where food grows and who grows it, opportunities for farmers open up, such as selling grain and pulse crops directly to bakeries. These niche markets tend to buy at a premium and hold potential for farmers to increase profits.

The emergence of new markets opens the doors for farmers to create a tighter supply chain and increase profits through niche markets. Tweet this

Article by: Canadian Press