COVID-19 Crisis Sparks Huge Demand To Make Ingredients For Bread

By Brendan Kelly – Montreal Gazette – April 1, 2020

AB Mauri plant in LaSalle has been busy producing yeast with production up between 15 and 20 per cent and more people making bread at home.

Everyone has heard about people frantically stocking up on toilet paper during the COVID-19 crisis. But did you know there has also been a major run on yeast in grocery stores?

Charles Taché knows all about the sudden surge in demand for yeast. He is manager of the AB Mauri plant in LaSalle, one of six production centres in North America for the company that is a leading global producer of yeast and other baking ingredients. LaSalle is one of the AB Mauri plants that produces the most volume in North America and it has been booming for the past few weeks. There is only one other AB Mauri plant in Canada, a much smaller operation in Calgary. The most famous AB Mauri brand is Fleischman’s Yeast.

Taché said production is up between 15 and 20 per cent since the COVID-19 crisis hit hard in North America, with increased demand from their industrial customers and from consumers. Yeast is one of the key ingredients in bread, along with flour and water. Bread sales have jumped significantly, as has the amount of people baking bread at home.

“When I did my groceries I noticed that the baking aisle was empty,” Taché said. “There was no flour or yeast left. If you go down the aisle and there’s no sliced bread, you think: OK, I’m going to do the next best thing, I’m going to make my own bread. And if you have a lot of time on your hands because you’re confined at home, well you might as well start a new hobby.”

Charles Taché, manager of the AB Mauri plant in LaSalle, says production of yeast is up between 15 and 20 per cent because of the COVID-19 crisis. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

As was the case with the run on toilet paper, it’s not immediately clear why there was a shortage of sliced bread in many stores early in the COVID-19 crisis.

“I think the sliced bread (buying) was just panic buying, the same thing as the toilet paper,” Taché said. “People were just trying to stock up on what they could find. Instead of buying one loaf of bread, they decided to buy four and put them in the freezer. So it empties out quickly. The other thing that is happening right now is that all of the school cafeterias are closed. Kids are not going to school. Restaurants are closed. They’re just doing take-out. People have to eat, so they’re just buying more at the grocery store.”

Social-media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are full of photos people have posted of the bread they’ve made at home over the past couple of weeks. One person who’s suddenly baking bread like never before is Beaconsfield resident Eric Martin.

“It’s really an outlet to do stuff with the kids,” said Martin, who is at home with his wife and two boys, age 3 and 5. “Using flour and dough and off you go. The motivation is we’re spending more time here and I have more time to do that.”

Martin had made bread before but hadn’t done it for a while. “I literally started again because of this,” he said.

Now Martin’s go-to bread that he makes is an oatmeal country-style loaf. It takes him about 16 hours. Mixing takes him 10 minutes, then he puts the bread in a dark space (his pantry) for 12 or 14 hours before baking it.

“I love it,” Martin said. “It’s a learning experience for the kids for them to produce a loaf of bread. And I like to be messy. The little one doesn’t really get it, but the bigger one is like: ‘Wow, cool!’”

AB Mauri produces yeast and other baking ingredients for big bread producers like Weston, Bimbo and Canada Bread. The LaSalle plant has 93 employees and is in the process of hiring six more to deal with the increased demand for yeast.

In a phone interview from the Memphis plant of AB Mauri, John Heilman, the company’s vice-president of yeast manufacturing, said the spike in demand for bread is also a reflection of the tough economic times with so many people losing their jobs because of the COVID-19 crisis.

“In the towns where people are out of work, bread becomes a really good staple and source of calories for a reasonable price,” Heilman said. “So I expect it to continue while this pandemic continues.”