Rank Hovis goes 100% British

Leading flour miller Rank Hovis has confirmed it will be moving to 100% British wheat across its entire Hovis bread range from January 2010.

“We have been working on this project for the past five years, with a multi-million pound investment to ensure the best quality British wheat provides the same quality as imported wheat,” said a statement.

Just over a year ago, Rank Hovis announced it was planning to move to 100% British red wheat, and was encouraging growers to plant the crop, with fixed price contracts of up to £300/t.

Head of wheat procurement Gary Sharkey said over 600 British farmers had taken up the offer and there was now sufficient red wheat from the 2009 harvest to move to 100% British in its bread from January.

“The success rate with red wheat has been excellent,” he told Farmers Weekly. “While only 26% of Group 1 milling wheats made full specification last harvest, for red wheat the figure was 95%.”

Red wheat makes up about 30% of the grist for Hovis bread, with the remaining wheat already procured from British farms. In total, the company buys over 1m tonnes of wheat for its range of breads, flours and mixes.

Mr Sharkey said that this year’s contracts were being offered at about a £135/t premium over feed wheat, to compensate for the 50% yield penalty for growing red wheat.

Contracts for growing the AC Barrie variety are being offered to farmers through two merchants – Premium Crops and Gleadell Agriculture.

Gleadell’s managing director David Sheppard said there was about an 80%-85% uptake from those who had grown the crop last season, and there was likely to be a waiting list of farmers wanting to grow the crop.

“We’re not saying this is right for everyone,” he told Farmers Weekly. “But if you’re good at growing milling wheat, and have the time and skill to invest in the crop, then it could make you a decent profit.”

Unlike last season, when most of the crop was spring-planted, this time it is more likely to be 50% autumn and 50% spring.

News of the switch to 100% British wheat was described as “fantastic news” by NFU president Peter Kendall. “This shows real commitment to UK farming, and its skill, professionalism and reliability, by a well-known and respected UK company.

Rank Hovis marketing director Jon Goldstone added: “We used to import £18m worth of Canadian wheat, £18m which will now go to British farmers – a significant amount of cash.”

The launch of 100% British Hovis will be supported with a fully integrated advertising campaign, though the company confirmed it had no plans yet to use the Red Tractor logo on its packaging.

There will be no related change to the price of Hovis bread in the shops.