October 30, 2014

Interview: Nigel Bennett, secretary, nabim

In this issue we talk to the secretary of nabim - Nigel Bennett. nabim has three principle functions to promote the flour milling industry's views to government, parliamentarians, regulators, the media and other interested bodies; to improve the understanding of the operational requirements of the flour milling sector; to provide information and advice to its members on a wide range of subjects affecting flour milling.

How old is nabim and why was it first established?

nabim was founded in 1878.  A meeting of leading millers had been called on 11 April that year with the express purpose of discussing and creating a national association.
Agreement was duly reached and the inaugural meeting of nabim was held on 27 April 1878.  The association’s main object was the advancement of common interests by legitimate means, including the collection of technical, practical and commercial information, largely related to the spread of rollermilling across Europe.


How important was the 1880 exhibition in London to the development of the industry and the association?

This exhibition, the first major event organised by nabim, is credited with being the catalyst in promoting the British roller revolution of 1885-95.
1891 saw Joseph Rank open, in Hull, the most advanced roller mill in Britain, and other large port mills also switched to rollermilling.  Between 1878 and 1900, it is estimated that the number of mills in Britain fell from 10,000 to 2,000.
What is the key role of the association today and does it have international role to play?
The association’s aims and objectives have not changed much since 1917,  the year of its incorporation and first articles.  To promote the interests of the UK flour milling industry by: establishing the industry’s needs and communicating them to all relevant parts of the supply chain;   anticipating, monitoring and influencing legislative and trade developments through effective relationships with policy-makers and others in London, Brussels and further afield;  advancing the highest possible standards of training and health and safety;  identifying technological needs and investing in research when best conducted on a collective basis;  promoting a positive image for the industry and its products; sourcing and supplying sound information to members on factors affecting sectoral competitiveness;  and acting as a forum for discussion on all legitimate issues affecting the industry’s competitiveness. nabim is very active within the European Flour Millers Association (EFM) and recently hosted, in Edinburgh, its biannual Congress.  We are a major presence on EFM’s Technical Committee which is of increasing importance as the European Commission seeks to regulate extensively on food safety matters.  Meanwhile, global relationships are maintained with, for example, North American wheat growers.


How has the UK flour milling industry changed over the years?

I suppose the key difference is in the number of milling companies.  During the first half of the twentieth century the number fell from around 2,000 to 200 (running about 500 mills).  Today there are just 30 or so milling companies in the UK, operating around 50 mills. Key milestones?  1939 – Government takes over all flour mills to achieve maximum production.  1946 – Bread rationing introduced.  1953 – Milling industry decontrolled.  1973 - UK entry into the European Union, a driver in the milling industry working with farmers and breeders to increase the amount of UK wheat that can be used for milling.  1998 – demise of Spillers Milling, one of the ‘big three’ milling companies.
Can you give us some basic statistics of the industry?
Each year, the UK flour milling industry produces around 5m tonnes of flour, from over 7m tonnes of wheat.  In the early 1970s, around 30% of the wheat used by UK millers was grown in the UK.  Nowadays, that figure is closer to 85% (though 2012 was an exception because of the worst UK harvest on record).

Is training a key role in the association's activities?

Not only does training feature in nabim’s aims and objectives but the industry sees nabim’s distance learning programme (the correspondence courses) as the bedrock of milling training – and has done so for a century or more. The industry provides the tutors and examiners, vital to the success of a programme that is ‘developed by millers, delivered by millers, for millers’.  The learning material is kept up-to-date;  students are provided with expert support;  and retained knowledge and understanding is assessed by formal written examination. 
How wide-ranging is that training both in terms of learning and in geographical reach?
Our training programme provides a comprehensive overview of the milling industry and process, covering everything from health and safety to quality assurance, from debranning to  bulk outloading.  Hundreds of students from around the world enrol for the courses each year.  A more ‘exclusive’ programme is the Advanced Milling Diploma, run every three years in partnership with CampdenBRI and the Buhler Training Centre in Switzerland.  nabim is also engaged in providing resources to support its member companies’ training and development in everything from practical skills to personal and management development. 
What is the future for nabim?
Bright – provided we can continue to engage with the whole industry and enjoy their commitment in terms of both finance and time.

What are the challenges the industry faces today?

How long have you got?
Here are four: Misinformation on the nutritional and health value of flour products.  The need to maintain sufficient supplies of milling quality wheat.  Increased regulatory intervention often based on the development of more sensitive tests to detect contaminants in food. Competitive pressures in the multiple retail sector with implications for its supply chain. 

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