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Asian biscuit demand presents new opportunity

Growing demand for biscuits and cakes in South-East Asia and China is creating a marketing opportunity for Australian growers of soft wheat. Here, a ship unloads wheat into a silo at a Malaysian port.
Photo: Catherine Norwood

The popularity of baked products such as biscuits and cakes is growing across South-East Asia and China as incomes grow and diets change.

As a result, the soft wheat market is projected to grow by 1.1 million tonnes (mmt) by 2030, with a total demand of 3.6mmt in South-East Asia alone. Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) analysis identified that the annual growth rate for cakes and biscuits is twice that of noodles in South-East Asia.

Recognising this opportunity, AEGIC is working to support a potential new Australian soft wheat industry, in collaboration with growers, breeders and other industry stakeholders.

Demonstrating the performance and value of Australian soft wheat will help position Australia as a preferred supplier of soft wheat to Asian markets and create value for growers.

A new opportunity

In recent years, the Australian soft wheat industry has been largely dormant, aside from some production under contract for Australian food companies.

More recently, flour millers in Asian markets have said they are interested in sourcing soft wheat from Australia to meet demand and reduce dependency on the US. This is promising news for the Australian wheat industry and an opportunity to take market share from current soft wheat suppliers such as the US.

Australian breeding companies are responding to this opportunity by significantly increasing their investment in soft wheat breeding programs in Western Australia. AEGICissupporting these breeding programs by helping to ensure Australian soft wheat meets market requirements.

This technical linkage development will connect WA growers and breeding companies with Australia’s markets.

Soft wheat variety trials: promising results

AEGIC has joined a collaboration with the Soft Wheat Growers Association  (SWGA), Australian Grain Technologies, InterGrain and LongReach Plant Breeders conducting soft wheat trials in Katanning, WA. Initial trials were promising and achieved the targeted low protein levels.

AEGIC tested samples of these wheat trials to assess biscuit performance against samples from other origins, based on the cooking test method used by Indonesian flour mills. The Australian soft wheat was generally comparable to competitors’ soft wheat. These trials will continue following these promising results.

Solvent retention capacity (SRC) testing has been identified as the most important wheat quality parameter, followed by biscuit performance for Indonesian mills when purchasing soft wheat. This technical test measures the solvent retention of flour and allows millers to evaluate how well flour will perform when manufacturing biscuits.

AEGIC will conduct collaborative SRC trials with two major Indonesian mills to enhance testing methods. AEGIC is also seeking to understand the milling performance of Australian soft wheat lines, as this was a key quality feature raised by Asian flour mills as an attribute requiring improvement.

AEGIC continues to evaluate more Australian soft wheat lines and optimise the test mill to investigate the effect of different milling conditions and bran and pollard on biscuit flour quality.

Australian Noodle Wheat

In the short term, low-protein Australian Noodle Wheat (ANW)  could be an alternative to US soft wheat.

Growers in the Pacific northwest region of the US suffered devastating heat and drought in 2021 and production of US Soft White (SW) wheat was badly affected. This has resulted in extremely limited soft wheat options for Asian flour millers and has driven SW prices to very high levels.

Low-protein ANW  provides an excellent short-term solution for Asian mills, with production expected to be significant in the 2021 season following above-average rainfall.

At a similar protein level, ANW2  made up of soft-grained wheat is shown to have comparable grain, milling, flour and biscuit-making properties to US SW.

AEGIC will be taking this information to customers soon via webinars to stimulate demand for low-protein ANW . This is a short-term opportunity.

These initiatives will allow the Australian wheat industry to confidently demonstrate the quality and value of Australian soft wheat to Asian customers. This will increase the likelihood they will buy our soft wheat in the future – ultimately benefiting growers.

AEGIC will continue to work closely with growers and the Australian wheat industry – as well as key Asian flour millers – with the aim of reinvigorating the Australian soft wheat export industry.

More-detailed soft wheat progress reports on this project are provided directly to Australian industry stakeholders. They can be obtained by contacting Dr Siem Siah.

More information: Dr Siem Siah, 02 8025 3200, siem.siah@aegic.org.au

AEGIC is an initiative of GRDC and the Western Australian State Government. AEGIC acknowledges the investment of the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in this project.

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