Producing quality bread under consistently hot and humid bakery conditions (+35°C and 85% humidity) would be considered extreme to commercial bakers in many parts of the world but for bakers in West and Central Africa it’s the norm. That is one of the many valuable observations made during Cigi’s first technical mission to the region at the end of February.
“The tropical climatic conditions are very extreme in this area,” says Yulia Borsuk, Technical Specialist in Baking Technology at Cigi. Under these realities, millers and bakers count on CWRS wheat to increase flour protein content, functionality and dough tolerance which are critical to producing good quality baguettes, pan bread and doughnuts popular in the region.
Yulia was part of a team of Cigi representatives who travelled to Cameroon to meet with customers and deliver a two-day technical seminar in this important market for Canadian wheat. Other team members were Dave Burrows, Cigi Vice-President, Client Relations and Communications; Juan Carlos Arriola, Technical Specialist, Milling Technology; and Kristina Pizzi, Manager, Analytical Services.
The technical seminar was initiated by Ifaco, a grain trading company that has been the biggest exporter of Canadian wheat in the west African market for more than 30 years. Erwan Boubet, Ifaco CEO, invited Cigi to conduct a seminar for its customers and provide millers, bakers, technical and procurement staff with the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the Canadian team members and ask questions and address issues regarding Canadian wheat. There were 45 participants from 10 countries in West and Central Africa.
Erwan described the Cigi seminar as a total success that exceeded his expectations. “The participants appreciated that people from Canada made the trip to meet with them. The discussion was very open and they were not shy about sharing their concerns or asking questions with their competitors in the room.”
The two-day agenda covered a lot of ground, providing detailed information about the quality of the 2014 western Canadian wheat crop and technical discussions specific to the requirements in West and Central Africa. Topics included flour blends and baking methods, as well as an overview of the Canadian grain industry from harvesting, storage and transport to Canada’s quality control system and regulations.
“This was a really important opportunity for Cigi and the Canadian industry to be in front of customers from a very important market,” says Dave Burrows. “This is not a small market for Canada Western Red Spring wheat.”
Exports to West and Central Africa have averaged 833,000 tonnes during the past five years and in 2013-14 alone, that amount totalled 1.13 million tonnes. Millers and bakers in the region primarily blend No. 2 CWRS with French wheat, which is typically low in protein and gluten strength. The blends can range from 10 to 15% CWRS for doughnut flour (used to produce a popular product similar to Timbits) to 50% CWRS for premium bakery flour, used predominantly for baguettes, a bread product known for its crisp golden crust, symmetrical shape and somewhat chewy crumb texture.
Dave says the mission was a two-way learning opportunity. For example, helping the African participants understand Canadian wheat quality parameters and the factors that contributed to gluten strength issues and how they are being addressed, and how the Canadian wheat market has evolved since the transition to an open market.
“We reinforced with them Canada’s commitment to providing high quality wheat and that our industry and infrastructure is solid,” says Dave.
From a technical perspective, Yulia, Juan Carlos and Kristina left with a better understanding of the region’s processing conditions and quality requirements and expectations.
“It was very interesting and helpful to learn their system for evaluating flour quality in a baguette application,” says Yulia. “They are very demanding and strict in terms of baguette quality.”
Ways to optimize the 2014 wheat crop were also discussed. “When you can explain that the water absorption for the new crop is lower, that makes a big difference to a baker because if they continue using the same amount of water as with a previous crop they might not be that happy with the end-product,” said Yulia. “It’s a simple thing that is very important for them to be aware of.”
With newfound knowledge for both customers and Cigi, Dave says the plan is for Cigi to do more work with the West and Central Africa region in the future. “By all accounts this was a great experience for everyone involved. It gives us something to build on as we work to maintain and build this market.”