Wheat Prices Go Sky High

In the last half of 2007, the price of wheat rose sharply to land just shy of $10 per bushel. This compares with a price of $4.75 a year ago and the long-term average price of $3.60, reports Bill Lapp, president of Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Neb. The rise in prices reflects an extremely tight global supply. Domestic wheat stocks fell to their lowest level in 60 years, according to the U.S.D.A., and world production fell short due to last year’s poor weather conditions in Europe and Australia.

“The wheat market is driving up the price of our base item—the roll,” says Jeff Perkins, director of marketing and franchising for Amato’s sandwich chain in Portland, Maine. “Even owning our own bakery doesn’t help much.” He’s not alone in his complaints—every sandwich concept is feeling the pinch, trying to absorb costs in the short term. Ultimately, operators say they will have to raise menu prices. The fillings are going up as fast as the bread, with chicken and dairy seeing the biggest price increases.  “Our customer would rather pay more and get the same quality sandwich than have us decrease the size of the roll or the filling,” Perkins adds. Most high-end sandwich restaurants are on the same page.

But wheat prices could slide back down in 2008, Lapp predicts. “If weather cooperates, world wheat production is projected to bounce back sharply due to expanded acreage and better yields,” he notes. “If that happens, prices should recede toward $5 to $7 per bushel.” That’s still above historic levels but a little easier on the wallet.

Product cutting:

Par-baked multigrain mini baguette

Led by Tim Konacek

Director of Quality and R&D, Signature Breads

Chelsea, Massachusetts

1. Open the case.
All the breads should be consistent in size and shape. Consistency is very important for a sandwich roll.

2. Examine the product in its frozen state. Par-baked breads should look a little wrinkly and pale in color.

3. Bake off the roll. Use the equipment normal to your operation—either a convection or regular oven. Bake according to timing on package, but take some product out a little sooner and some a little later. Certain customers prefer a lighter, softer crust, others want a darker, crispy exterior. Stick with the timing that works best for your operation.

4. Judge the appearance of the bread. The crust should crisp up and brown. Split the roll horizontally, leaving it attached on one side. The crumb should look moist and you should see speckles of grain inside; the hinge of the roll should hold together to make a good sandwich.

5. Taste the bread. The flavor should be fresh with toasted wheat and slight nutty notes from the grain. Notice a little sweetness from the addition of honey and molasses.

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