Investigations by Standardbusiness have revealed that bread makers in Zimbabwe are short-changing consumers by making and selling bread weighing less than the government stipulated mass of 700g per loaf.
BY TATIRA ZWINOIRA
In December 2017, bakers introduced a 10% rise in the price of bread, claiming that the cost of production had gone up. The price of bread was increased by 10 cents per loaf. However, after a consumer outcry, marathon meetings were held with government resulting in the industry reverting to the old prices of $0,90 and $1 per loaf.
Following complaints from consumers over the quality of bread, investigations have now established that bakers are making bread that is less than the stipulated mass.
“There is an outcry by consumers due to the decreased quality of bread coming from some of the traditional big bakeries after the price increase reversal. The quality and size of the loaf has deteriorated and government should intervene. The consumers are complaining that the standard loaf no longer weighs 700g, which is the stipulated weight,” said Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Denford Mutashu.
In Zimbabwe, the three biggest players on the market, namely Bakers Inn, Proton and Lobels, control 95% of the market, according to the National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe (NBAZ) market survey covering January to May 2017.
On Friday, Standardbusiness purchased three loaves from each of these players from a variety of retail outlets to check the mass.
The results showed Baker’s Inn was on average selling a loaf of bread with an average mass of 643g, Lobels 690g and Proton at 653g.
In their packaging, however, Proton and Lobels are still placing the mass of the bread at 700g, while Bakers Inn does not put the weight of their bread on the package.
Proton Bakers (Pvt) Ltd sales manager Simba Bodzo referred all questions to NBAZ when this paper enquired on the reduced mass.
“Please be advised that we are in consultation with various authorities through the National Bakers Association of Zimbabwe, may you kindly refer all questions to them.”
NBAZ president and Bakers Inn CEO Ngoni Mazango said as Baker’s Inn, they followed all the regulatory requirements required from them, but admitted to challenges.
“Like most companies operating in the current environment, Baker’s Inn is not spared from foreign currency shortages for inputs and plant spares imports, unreliable potable water and power supply and high labour cost, which has been increasing at an average of 2% per year against unchanged selling price over years; flour and diesel price increases and imported inflation on most overheads,” he said.
He refused to comment on the issue of the lower mass of bread per loaf.
“Like all industries in the country, the bakery industry has its share of problems which has seen some bakeries closing down (+/- 93 to 100 bakeries having closed shop) which is a very sad development and as such we need to ensure that we don’t see more bakeries closing,” he said. “If these challenges are not addressed, we see a serious viability problem for the industry. We, however, remain hopeful that the industry will come out of this patch stronger and more efficient.”
According to government, the 700g mass of a loaf of bread is governed by Statutory Instrument (SI) 56 of 1989 which states that bread should be sold at either 350g or 700g provided that:
“The mass of an individual loaf may vary from the prescribed mass by not more than five per centum deficiency or 10 percentum in excess if the average mass of at least 10 loaves taken at random from among those of the same batch of loaves is not less than the prescribed mass,” the SI states.
“This section shall not apply to bread roll, a bap or a fancy loaf whose mass does not exceed one hundred grammes.”
In that regard, Lobels is the only baker taking advantage of the stipulation in SI 56 of 1989.
In emailed responses to Standardbusiness, Lobels CEO Sharron Maparura said they strive to provide customers with quality bread.
“We are required by law to sell a standard loaf of bread which falls within the weight guidelines stipulated in S1 56 (1989) and S1 216 (1993). As a business, we strive to provide our customers with the best quality product at all times, and ensure we work within the confines of the law,” she said.
“As seen in the bakery industry, most of our equipment is old, resulting in plant unreliability and inconsistencies. Our factories require retooling, which requires significant capital, hence the need to restore viability of the bakery industry.”
She said that the position of the baking industry was currently with the National Competitiveness Commission which outlined costs for sector.
Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe chairman Tafadzwa Musarara said: “As we have earlier stated in our adverts published in all major papers in November 2017, the price of flour has not gone up from the agreed price of $32 per 50 kilogrammes since 2005. To prove this, in-store supermarket bakeries that we are supplying the flour at these prices, are selling their bread at prices lower than 75 cents per loaf,” he said.
“… We challenge any of the three major bakeries to avail their individual costing and prove that flour is the reason for the price increase.”
In the retail bakeries category, TM Pick n Pay and OK Zimbabwe dominate the market and are retailing a loaf of bread at $0,70 and $0,75 cents respectively. In terms of weight, a loaf of bread from each store was weighing an average of 675g, which is within the stipulated weight.
TM Pick n Pay managing director Malcolm Mycroft said he was out of the country and would be back in office tomorrow (Monday).
OK Zimbabwe CEO Alex Siyavora did not answer calls.
Bread is a critical basic commodity in the country as seen by the amount of loaves produced each day; about 1 891 505, according to the NBAZ 2017 market survey.
Of that amount, large bakeries produce a collective 928 805 loaves of bread.
In terms of the value chain in the baking industry, wheat producers sell their produce to the milling industry. Millers then produce brown bread flour, whole wheat flour, white bread flour, cake flour, self-raising flour and industrial flour to sell to the baking industry.
From there, bakeries make the bread and distribute to retail sector to be sold to consumers.
Bakers admitted in the 2017 NBAZ market survey that farmers, millers and government were the key players in the industry.
When contacted for comment on Thursday, government seemed unaware of this development (the less than stipulated bread mass).
“I have not yet received the brief about the underweight bread but we do have the trade measure unit which is responsible legal metrology, they deal with weights and measurements, so I am going to immediately find out from them so that they can go out and check,” Industry, Commerce and Enterprise Development permanent secretary Abigail Shoniwa said.
“If consumers are encountering underweight bread, we would expect some complaints to come through. Like I said, I meet every day with my unit and at this morning’s brief I did not get that brief.”
Consumer Council of Zimbabwe executive director Rosemary Siyachitema did not answer repeated calls made by the paper.