Published on Agriculture & Food

Buttering bread on both sides — Going local with our food supply chain

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Jonathan and his in-house mill at the bakery. Photo: World Bank Jonathan and his in-house mill at the bakery. Photo: World Bank

The devastating impact of high food prices has been front and center in the news recently, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine raising serious concerns about the exposure of global food supply chains to geopolitical risk.  

Countries have responded to the risk by introducing food trade restrictions with a goal of increasing domestic supply and reducing prices. And what may be perceived as an anti-globalization sentiment is not limited to food — take the U.S. government's CHIPS and Science Act, which provides $280 billion in new funding to boost domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors in the United States, with the aim of improving resilience of the semiconductor industry.

A recent visit to my favorite Washington, D.C. bakery — Seylou — got me thinking more about the backlash against globalization and how we need a more nuanced approach to development that couples local and global actions to build a more resilient world. 

Bakery owner Jonathan Bethony was telling me the story of how three media outlets approached him for interviews when global wheat prices spiked at the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Jonathan tells it, the outlets were after a story on the impact of the sky-high flour prices on his business and the price of his bread. But the reporters left disappointed because the high price of globally traded wheat had zero impact on his business. Even before the war, when the initial shocks of COVID-19 rippled through the supply chain, and supermarkets had difficulties stocking flour on their shelves, Jonathan’s bakery made a healthy business of selling more flour than ever before. 

Map of farms.
Map of local farms where Seylou sources its produce. Photo: Seylou

This got me thinking, was the more interesting story here why the Seylou business model is immune to the spike in global wheat prices? 

Map of farms.
Map of farms.
Map of farms.

The first thing to understand is its unorthodox business model, which includes an in-house mill to produce flour from grain sourced exclusively from local regenerative farms. When was the last time you saw a flour mill in your local bakery? Never is the likely answer. Jonathan mills grain in-house because it gives him full control of flour quality. Flour quality is in turn the key for the traditional fermentation techniques his bakery uses to pre-digest part of the gluten used to make the dough, ultimately improving the bread’s nutritional content and imparting it with gut-friendly properties.

Jonathan tells me he could source organic flour from halfway across the country or halfway around the world at a lower price point. But he chooses not to, because it would not meet his stringent requirements and it would not be rooted in a vision that he shares with his suppliers of baking healthy bread while looking after the planet. While his short local supply chain is particularly resilient to the volatility of global grain markets, this does not mean it would be immune to local disruptions such as a mid-Atlantic drought. Hopefully the regenerative techniques used by his farmers are helping mitigate that risk.

Globalization and long supply chains are an unparalleled mechanism for growth and development that helps provide people with access to better quality and quantity of goods, including food. Localization and short supply can be resilient and supports the local economy of the area — ensuring demand for the goods produced by local farmers and creating jobs. 

Maybe it’s time to try and "butter our bread on both sides," by moving away from the polar positions of either globalization or localization, and explicitly move towards a "glocal" model that creates more resilient food supply chains. 


Julian Lampietti

Manager, Global Engagement in the Agriculture and Food Global Practice

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