Coronavirus: My Bread Flour Shortage Points to Curious Trend in China

Toilet paper shortages? Seriously?

I was stunned when I read news of how this bathroom essential was flying off shelves — and leaving them bare — around the world, all due to fears about the coronavirus.

I found it rather bizarre because here in China, we never saw toilet paper selling out in our supermarket. And apparently I’m not the only one puzzled, since news articles have surfaced on this subject, such as Why are people stockpiling toilet paper?

Still, the coronavirus has led to some unusual pressure on supplies that I never had to virtually elbow my fellow shoppers over.

Witness, for example, how in the past couple of weeks my favorite brand of bread flour, Xinliang, the best-seller in the online supermarket, has consistently been out of stock. I’ve been purchasing it for over a year and this is the first time this has happened.

And we’re not talking about just one type of Xinliang bread flour. Every single darned variety — white flour for bread, whole wheat flour, cake flour — in every single size — from 5 kilograms right down to 500 grams — is unavailable.

The online flagship store for Xinliang on Alibaba’s Tmall provided even less reassurance. While they were selling all my must-have varieties of bread flour, they came with a rather painful asterisk — that the store could ship them out as late as early April. Early April!

Now, granted, the online supermarket has other brands of bread flour on sale — but I’m stubborn. I really, really like Xinliang, right down to the adorable English words “Pure bread flour” printed on the front of its white bread flour packages.

Why has Xinliang been selling like hot jiaozi dumplings? Well, some recent coronavirus-inspired trends might offer some clues.

Last month, I wrote about how spending more time at home inspired me to get more creative in the kitchen, as I prepared more foods from scratch — including home-baked bread (thank you, bread machine!) — and expanded my repertoire, even creating my own homemade hummus.

The problem? Everyone else was steaming up their own kitchen cooking for themselves — and lots of them wanted bread too, by the looks of news reports. Consider this detail in the article Sales of cooking goods soar on online platforms (emphasis mine):

Sales of yeast, a necessity for making bread and pastries, soared by nearly 40 times while dumpling wrappers were sold seven times more than before. Seasonings were a hot item, with over 3.93 million onions, pieces of ginger and heads of garlic sold.

Data from Tmall International also showed that a UK multifunctional boiler, a Japanese sandwich maker as well as bread makers saw their sales soar 400 percent in its platform during the past one month.

So if more shoppers have been snapping up yeast and bread makers, then it’s no wonder my precious Xinliang bread flour has been missing in action in the online supermarket.

I keep waiting and hoping for it to reappear on the virtual shelves, checking every single week for signs of its re-emergence. But so far, no luck.

Meanwhile, I’ve observed shoppers moving on to a new brand of bread flour, touting how everyone in those Tik-Tok cooking videos uses it and posting their photos of bread hot out of the machine. It offered some reassurance, at least, that shifting to a new brand wouldn’t somehow lead to lackluster loaves.

But since I still have at least 3 kilograms of Xinliang bread flour left over — and a perhaps somewhat irrational attachment to the brand — I’m willing to wait a little longer.

However, if you’re one of the poor souls facing toilet paper shortages, waiting a little longer, depending on how many rolls you have left, might literally bite you in the bum.

Have you been seeing any unusual shortages in your area because of the coronavirus? Sound off in the comments.

P.S.: If this post inspired you to bake some more bread, consider heading over to When West Dates East for a delectable recipe for Shaker bread. And please, do your other fellow bakers a favor and leave some bread flour for the next person!

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8 Replies to “Coronavirus: My Bread Flour Shortage Points to Curious Trend in China”

  1. Great article. Here in the US we have a bunch of weird shortages, or items missing from the store shelves. Yes, toilet paper is impossible to find and like there, we have shortages of flour as well. Here the shortages are caused by hoarding of supplies and goods by selfish greedy people that do not care about anyone but themselves. The problem is not one of the items not being available from the manufacturers but the items can only ship so fast and hoarders empty the shelves like a shark eating frenzy. It will slow down and products will be back on the shelves in a month or so because a majority of the people have no savings and sadly will be broke. Thank you for your insightful story.

    1. Daniel, thank you for your comment. It is awful that people in the US are going through all of these hardships, including the hoarding and subsequent shortages. I agree that it will slow down, and have seen multiple articles reassuring people there is enough food. You may find this encouraging — the bread flour I could not buy at the supermarket is now back in stock. And so is the hand soap I used to buy. So I would agree — just hang in there and the supplies will get replenished. It also helps to just, as much as possible, stretch out what you have if you can make meals out of it (even though it might not be exactly what you’re craving). And then by the time you get through that, you might see that supplies are getting replenished again. Sending you lots of hugs, and hope you stay safe!

  2. Flour of almost any type at a reasonable price is in short supply on Amazon. Because it is disappearing as soon as the grocery workers put it on the shelf, I thought I could avoid going out and order it. Checked last night, many suppliers adding the following statement: ”We do not know when and if this product will become available.” I live about 20 miles from an Amish store that sells flour in bulk as well as in 10lb quantity. Yeast is normally available but this is also in short supply in local groceries.
    The flour prices on Amazon will blow you away because apparently some processing plants know they have a worldwide hot commodity right now.

    1. Hi Jeanette, belated thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you’ve encountered these difficulties in finding flour. I hope you have since been able to purchase something — I’ve seen some reports of items that had been perpetually out of stock, such as toilet paper, returning to shelves. And also hope the prices have come down some.

  3. I’ve been without flour for 3 weeks now. Just doing without bread or baked goods for now. Instead of bread, using potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, salads, produce and cornbread (no shortage of cornmeal!). It is a minor adjustment to meal planning, shorter cooking/preparation times and two family members have already lost 5 pounds. No problem, we will just have to WAIT until the flour mills to catch up and/or the hoarding subsides. I wonder what the hoarders are doing with all the flour? Flour DOES have a shelve life, deteriorates with age and it is a somewhat perishable item.

    1. Dear Alice, belated thanks for the comment. Very smart of you to find substitutes to fill in the gap during the shortages! Good point about the shelf life of flour — I guess the hoarders might not have considered that. In any event, hopefully others might follow your lead and get creative with ingredients!

  4. Oh, wow, thanks for the shout out! We are well into quarantine craziness/ flour shortages here in the U.S.–just as China emerges from the worst part of their pandemic.

    It was so frustrating to watch the U.S. squander all the time China bought them while South Korea paid attention and prepared.

    The incompetence and selfishness of the Trump administration in incalculable.

    1. Hey Autumn, a very belated thank you for the comment! I am hoping some of the shortages have eased a bit where you’re living. I feel your pain and frustration as well every time I tune in to the international news over here.

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