Belgium bakers struggle to make ends meet as flour prices soar

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By Gregoire Lory
Arnaud Szalies at work in his Brussels bakery.
Arnaud Szalies at work in his Brussels bakery.   -   Copyright  Euronews

In his hands, Arnaud Szalies is holding what he refers to as white gold: flour.

An award-winning pastry chef, Szalies - like everyone else in his industry - has seen prices of flour rise 30% in the last three months amid the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine is one of Europe’s largest producers of wheat and the fifth largest exporter in the world. Russia, meanwhile, is the world’s largest wheat exporter.

"With the war coming we don't know how high it will go,” he told Euronews.

Szalies said that prices are going up so fast that he doesn’t know how much he will have to pay when he orders it.

“You can imagine that if we buy something without knowing the price we don’t know how much to sell it for,” he said.

“If we have to put our prices up then we lose customers.”

Szalies has already had to let go of one of his team and now has a single pastry chef helping him across his two workshops.

Albert Denoncin, co-president of the Belgian Bakery and Pastry Confederation, has warned that the problem could be about to get even worse.

“We must not forget that Ukraine is the granary of Europe, and with what is happening at the moment, there is nothing more coming out of Ukraine,” he said.

“This means that tomorrow we could see the price of flour quadruple, which wouldn't surprise us, given the current circumstances.”

For Belgium’s 3,500 bakeries and pastry shops, wheat is not the only thing that is getting more expensive. 

Energy prices have skyrocketed and are set to increase even more during 2022 as Europe slashes the amount of natural gas it imports from Russia and oil prices rise.

"Last year we were paying 3,000 euros a month for electricity and we've just received an adjustment of 9,000 euros,” he said.

“So I'll let you imagine, the worst is yet to come. Next year, how much we will pay, I have no idea.”