Flour processors set quality expectations
Ground Cover writer Catherine Norwood looks at the changing wheat market in Malaysia as part of her series investigating South-East Asia’s emergence as a dominant grains marketIn Malaysia, institutional customers are the dominant flour users – multinational players who expect the same levels of quality assurance and food safety in South-East Asia as they do elsewhere in the world.
That’s good news for the bigger millers, such as Interflour Group, Malayan Flour Mill and Federal Flour Mills, which are well-placed to meet stringent quality requirements and to customise flours for corporate customers.
While smaller millers and food processors have found it difficult to adapt to higher quality requirements, the larger players have gone from strength to strength.
And unlike other countries where new entrants are entering the milling industry to take advantage of projected growth in flour demand, in Malaysia the growth in capacity has come from existing players expanding. This includes Interflour, which operates four mills in the country.
Malaysia is a much smaller market for Australian wheat than Indonesia. Sales in 2013 to Malaysia (population 30 million) amounted to 1.5 million tonnes, compared with 7.2 million tonnes to Indonesia (population 250 million). But the milling and market requirements there are as sophisticated as any other market in the world, according to Elmar Nau, general manager of the Interflour Group’s largest Malaysian facility, the Prestasi Flour Mill at Port Klang, east of Kuala Lumpur.
He says large institutional customers such as Gardenia, Kraft and Nestlé dominate the processing and consumer markets. They have highly controlled production processes and increasingly high demands for quality, food safety and traceability. This includes a requirement that flour is independently tested for chemical residues.
“That is one of the big advantages of Australian wheat – you can trace the wheat almost onto the farm,” Mr Nau says. “It is important for us to know that the grain that arrives here is tested and is safe and clean.”
Mr Nau says Prestasi works closely with customers to produce flours that meet their specific needs and now has more than 60 standard products. When the mill opened 15 years ago it produced only two different flours.
The growth in the flour product range reflects the growing diversity in end uses, currently driven by growth in the bread categories, particularly sliced white bread and sweet buns. These make greater use of higher-rising Canadian and US hard wheat, rather than Australian wheat flours. Health products such as multigrain and wholemeal breads are also an emerging market segment.
Research and development has been an important part of improving performance for all the Interflour mills and markets. The most recent product development is a roti-canai premix, branded as ‘I-Mix’ (just add water), for both home and commercial use. This product alone has taken researchers more than a year to perfect.
Other new products in the pipeline include premium muffin, cake and self-raising flour premixes. While the price of general-purpose flour for domestic use is still subject to government controls as a basic food product, premix and other non-general-purpose flours are not price-controlled.
Interflour established its own research centre in Malaysia in 2005, based at the University of Putra Malaysia. The centre conducts both fundamental and applied research into grains and flour-based products, constantly looking for ways to make the milling process more efficient and improve flour qualities, as well as developing new products.