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▲ The bread industry in South Africa

The Bread Industry today supplies bread everywhere in South Africa. Surveys have shown that bread is available in 97% of all food stores and cafes in the country. This means all South Africans have easy access to bread.

Bread is produced by three types of bakery-the plant or industrial bakery, the in-store bakery and the stand-alone retail bakery.

The number of in-store bakeries have grown dramatically since deregulation in 1991. Today almost every supermarket has its own in-store bakery. There has also been a significant growth in stand-alone retail bakeries, particularly franchise bakeries.

The number of plant bakeries has dropped to between 60 and 70 compared to 200 in 1991. They are nevertheless very efficient producers of bread.

There are an estimated 600 in-store bakeries in the major supermarket groups, 250 franchise bakeries and 3 500 to 4 500 small independent bakeries and in-store café bakeries.

The total production of bread based on flour sales in 2003 was 2 800 million loaves (1 500 million white loaves and 1 300 million brown loaves). This is approximately 62 loaves for every South African during the year or nearly 3 slices of bread per day for each person. The market value was approximately R12 billion.

The plant bakeries produced 1 400 million loaves or 50% of the total production. Their efficiency is illustrated by the fact that there are 8 500 employees in the plant baking sector. Each employee therefore provides the bread requirements for approximately 2 600 South Africans based on the fact that this sector supplied half of the South African bread market or 22,5 million people.

▲ Importance of bread in South Africa

Bread is the second most important supplier of energy (kilojoules) in the national diet after maize products. It provides approximately half of the kilojoules provided by maize products. It however supplies more than twice as many kilojoules as any other energy source (i.e. potatoes, rice, etc).

Food nutritionists generally agree that bread, as a starchy food, is an essential part of the foundation of a healthy diet. It is a good source of energy (kilojoules), protein and fibre. Furthermore, South African white and brown bread now supply eight essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as fortified flour is used in their production.

▲ Early history

Wheat was first cultivated for bread production approximately 9 000 years ago in Mesopotamia ( Iraq). The first bread was probably round flat loaves of crushed wheat which were unleavened. This meant no yeast was used to leaven or cause fermentation to make the dough rise and give bread its characteristic light texture. The fermentation process where natural yeast produces gas (carbon dioxide) to cause the dough to rise was probably discovered by accident when a mixture of milled wheat or flour and water was forgotten for a day.

In any event, the baking of leavened or fermented dough became an accepted practice over time. Historical records indicate that bread baking was originally a purely domestic activity carried out by the women of the household.

Bread preparation for the courts of the Pharaoh's, however, required specialised bakers. The Jewish people also developed bread baking as a trade and thoroughly understood the leavening process.

When Rome colonised the known world at that time, bread bakers were brought from Macedonia ( Iran). A Collegium Pistorium, a Bakers College or Guild, was established in Rome in the century before the birth of Jesus Christ. The bakers in Rome during this period also enjoyed a high status and were given many privileges.

The art and skill of bread baking spread throughout Europe with many countries developing strong Bakery Guilds. Settlers in South Africa from Holland, England, France, Germany and other European countries brought their bread baking traditions and preferences with them. Heritage, communication and immigration therefore resulted in South Africa having a cosmopolitan taste for bread.

The main carbohydrate diet of South Africa's own indigenous population was originally porridge made from millet and other small grains. Maize porridges then began to dominate the diet as maize became South Africa's most important agricultural crop. Bread has, however, steadily become a popular product as it adds variety to the diets, is tasty and nutritious as well as convenient and ready to eat.

▲ South African history of bread production

Bread baking was first established in the Cape Province with the arrival of the Dutch Settlers in the Seventeenth Century.

The baking Industry was, however, limited to only two commercial bakeries up to 1879. Bread was mostly baked at home during the first 200 years of European settlements.

The discovery of diamonds in 1868 and gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 led to the development of large towns and urban complexes. This in turn created a market for the development of further commercial bakeries.

The influx of immigrants between 1900 and 1914 stimulated the growth of the Baking Industry. It was also during this period that the Milling Industry began to acquire an interest in the Baking Industry in order to stabilise the market for flour.

Following a period of uncontrolled price fluctuations which caused serious harm to the agricultural industry. An Agricultural Marketing Act was accepted by Parliament in 1938 with a view to stabilising the various agricultural industries.

In terms of this Act, the Wheat and Baking Industries were tightly controlled. The basic aims of the system of control were firstly, to promote stability through a policy of rationalisation, secondly, to keep the price of bread as low as possible in order to place this staple foodstuff within reach of low income groups; and thirdly, to maintain strict standards in the quality of wheat products. The marketing system involved control of the following:

Attitudes towards controlled marketing systems for agricultural products began to change in the 1980s with an international trend towards liberalisation and greater competition through free markets.

The controlled marketing system for the Wheat Industry also began to lose support and the restrictive registration of millers and bakers was terminated in 1991. The bread subsidy was stopped in 1992 and wholesale and retail price control over wheat flour and bread was abolished in 1991.

South Africa now has one of the most free Industries in the world. Anyone is free to open a bakery and sell bread provided they comply with the health regulations of the local Municipality and the Department of Health. The bread must also comply with the bread mass regulations of the Division of Trade Metrology of the South African Bureau of Standards, the regulations in the Agricultural Product Standards Act and the requirements of the Department of Health's Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act.