Wheat products have never had a big market in Cambodia, where meals revolve around rice, but Western influences are increasingly shaping local tastes and creating an appetite for flour products.
According to figures from the Ministry of Commerce, market demand for wheat products has doubled in the last decade as the number of bakeries rises and baked goods hit supermarket shelves. Cambodia imported nearly $13 million of wheat flour in 2015 and is on track for another strong year.
A representative from Asia Flour Mill Corp, one the country’s two biggest domestic flour millers, said the majority of raw flour is imported from Vietnam, China and Singapore.
Ngoun Sophea, a seller at Sampovmeas Wheat Flour Depot, a wholesaler for Asia Flour, said the growth in demand can be seen in nearly 100 bakeries operating in Phnom Penh, including chains such as Tous Les Jours, Bread Talk and Bayon Bakery.
“If compared to the last five years, the flour market has increased by 20 per cent,” he said, adding that he supplies nearly 1,000 tonnes of flour per month to local bakeries.
Sophea said a change in traditional meal habits was a driving force in the uptake of wheat. He estimated that nearly 70 per cent of consumers have replaced part of their traditional breakfast and lunch with flour products, namely due to the accessibility of bread that sells for only 500 to 1,000 riel.
“There is a big market for bakeries that cater for garment workers because it is cheaper and more convenient than rice,” he pointed out.
Ouk Puthy, assistant director of Bayon Bakery, a local bakery chain that will open its 13th branch next month, said Cambodians were also moving toward a higher consumption of baked goods as they integrate Western practices into their traditional culture.
For example, he said, cakes at weddings have become increasingly popular over traditional weddings festooned with fruits.
“A lot of our customers are ordering cakes for weddings and birthdays, and I see this as Cambodians wanting to update themselves to more modern and European styles,” she said.
The bakery is also popular with customers purchasing bread to take to their workplace, she said.
While Bayon Bakery sources some of its raw materials from Asia Flour Mill, Puthy said the company also imports directly from Australia and New Zealand to keep up with demand.
“Our production keeps increasing, so we need to make sure that we order quality flour to ensure that our bread has good flavour,” she said.