The first loaves of 100% British Hovis bread have hit the shop shelves this week, as leading miller Rank Hovis rolls out its policy of using UK-produced red wheat only in all its branded products.

Sporting a 100% British Wheat and Union Jack logo, the new-look loaves have gone into all the major retailers, marking another key stage in a project that has been five-years in the making.

“We have invested heavily in this project to get British growers producing the red wheat we used to import from Canada,” said Rank Hovis head of wheat procurement Gary Sharkey. “This amounted to about £18m a year of business – money that is now going back into British agriculture.”

Trials have shown that the AC Barrie variety used is well-suited to British conditions. Even though it suffers about a 50% yield penalty, it has also achieved a 98% pass rate against specification compared with 31% for traditional British Class 1 wheats, said Mr Sharkey.

To compensate for the lower yield, the miller is paying a significant premium, worth about £135/t over the feed price. Mr Sharkey also revealed that the company was involved in trialling a second variety of red wheat this season, and would be extending this to four or five in 2011.

Over 600 farmers are now signed up to grow the crop for harvest 2010, providing the miller with all the grain it will need to guarantee 100% British in all its Hovis-branded products – including flour and mixes.

Contracts for both winter and spring sown crops have gone out from merchants Gleadell Agriculture and Premium Crops, and there is now a waiting list.

There are growers in England, Scotland and Wales, ensuring a broad geographic spread to supply Rank Hovis’s seven mills and dozen bakeries.

“We want to work closely with our growers to develop a strong supply chain relationship,” said Mr Sharkey. As such, the miller is setting up The Hovis Growers Club and is holding three regional meetings next week – in York, Peterborough and Newbury – to which all 600 growers are invited.

“We want to talk to our growers and ask how they see the future. We may want to build in environmental protocols to strengthen the brand. It’s a real collaborative venture.”

The launch of 100% British Hovis is being backed by a full trade and consumer press advertising campaign.