During this past year Cigi staff learned more about the needs of both current and potential customers of Canadian wheat in the south Asia region through missions to India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
Last March Cigi went on a two-week mission to India, visiting major flour mills, bakeries, extrusion plants, and research institutes to investigate the quality requirements and processes involved in the production of local flours (such as atta and maida) and Indian end products. The trip also included staff presentations on the quality of Canadian wheat classes in a two-day program at the Assocom Institute of Bakery Technology and Management.
The trip offered Cigi technical and programs staff a chance to explore the needs of millers and processors, discuss the advantages of using high-quality Canadian wheat, and determine what opportunities exist for future wheat exports to the Indian market which is currently not importing from Canada, says Ashok Sarkar, Senior Advisor, Cigi Technology. “When I visited India on a mission in 2007 they had a shortfall of wheat and imported about two million tonnes from Canada I think over a couple of years. Before then they bought it only occasionally.”
India is the second largest producer of wheat in the world next to China and exports to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh. Southern India (Chennai) also imports lower protein wheat required for flour used in products such as flatbreads (parota) from places like Australia. Occasionally India has also imported from the Black Sea region.
“Our discussions mainly focussed on CWRS for use in premium products like high-volume loaf breads,” Ashok says. “Wheat for high-quality pan bread may be only a small percentage but in India even 5% usage could mean a lot.”
He adds that India’s burgeoning middle class may open up different opportunities for Canadian wheat with the accompanying demand for higher quality bread and baked products.
Another reason for Cigi’s visit was to gain technical knowledge about the processing of atta flour (a combination of common and durum wheat) for the production of chapattis, a type of flatbread, for which about 85% of wheat in India is used. Such food products are similar to those consumed in surrounding countries. While in India the group had a unique opportunity to tour an atta flour mill and also visited a Buhler facility in Bangalore where they saw a newly developed “Pesa” mill for the production of high quality atta flour (milled without the traditional use of stone discs).
“We wanted to understand what kind of quality is needed because India has a lot of influence on neighbouring customer countries,” Ashok says. “They usually export wheat to places like Bangladesh which is one of our largest customers. So we wanted to see how that quality relates to end production and how we can best position ourselves in the mix.”
He says the Cigi team also discovered other possibilities in India that included the milling of high-quality durum semolina for export, durum noodle (Hakka style) production, and flour improvers. “It was a learning opportunity because we have never seen additives for flatbreads and Indian types of products. The knowledge we gained from the trip was incredible.”
Mission to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka
Last August the Cigi technical team travelled on a mission to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to discuss Canadian wheat quality and technical issues as well as meet with buyers and millers.
As both of these countries advance economically there is increasing consumption of flour-based products, Askok says. Customers prefer CWRS to blend with other imported wheats for the production of pan breads, flatbreads, biscuits and noodles. “CWRS is regarded very highly and these markets are gradually becoming more demanding, more sophisticated.”
He says that in addition to importing wheat from India, they buy from countries that include Australia, Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, Argentina and, recently, Brazil. The wheats tend to be less expensive than CWRS which is used to improve the quality, or gluten content and strength of their baked and noodle products.
“Overall their usage is lower protein wheat; most of their products, like flat bread (Ruti) are for home use so that may only have a little bit of Canadian wheat in order to improve whatever quality they are getting from other sources. But for more premium types of products like pan bread or buns they may need to use more Canadian wheat to give them the quality, and for noodles it’s the same thing.”
The visit to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is a good relationship-building type of mission which the customers appreciate, he says. “We can explain to them how they can use Canadian wheat, or who they can contact to get further answers. They know that we aim to be helpful and are here to answer their questions.”
While in Bangladesh the Cigi team presented at a seminar on wheat and flour quality and baking technology called ‘Know the Best, Beat the Rest,’ held by ACI, a buyer of Canadian wheat since 2008. ACI invited representatives from about 50 of their customers including major processing companies to the seminar. Cigi technical staff participated as resource people, giving presentations on Cigi, baking technology, and how to best use Canadian wheat in their end products.
Bangladesh customer at Cigi
Adhir Ranjan Saha, Factory Operation Manager at ACI, attended a technical exchange for Bangladesh customers at Cigi in September. He says his company uses Canadian flour in the production of bread, noodles, and biscuits and this past year also used it in the milling of atta flour for chapatti flatbreads.
“Canadian is the best, with cleanliness, colour, condition, and also protein, but the price is higher,” he says. “Bangladesh is a developing country so we compromise, mill it with one or two other similar wheats.”
Mr. Saha says he was impressed with his first visit to Canada and Cigi. “In Bangladesh we’re totally impressed to see this type of laboratory, this type of system. Technically, if there are any questions about wheat with analytical testing or milling we will get a quick response from Cigi.”
He adds that, like India, with increasing economic growth consumer preferences are changing from commonly eaten rice dishes to the convenience of wheat-based products like bread and noodles which means a greater demand for the inclusion of quality wheat.