The Current

Quebec yeast factory works overtime to meet rising demand from newbie bread bakers

A sudden spike in homemade bread-baking has emptied store shelves of key ingredients, and that has one Quebec factory working overtime to meet demand.

AB Mauri facility, which makes Fleischmann's Yeast, is running around the clock to keep up

Home baking is enjoying a pandemic-inspired renaissance and that has a Quebec yeast factory working overtime. (Eric Risberg/The Associated Press)

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A sudden spike in homemade bread-baking during the COVID-19 pandemic has emptied store shelves of key ingredients, and that has one Quebec factory working overtime to meet demand.

Charles Taché is the plant manager for AB Mauri, one of the world's biggest manufacturers of yeast and other baking products.

The factory in Lasalle, Que., outside of Montreal, makes Fleischmann's Yeast. 

"We're producing here 24/7 and we're shipping out thousands and thousands of cases every day," he told The Current's Matt Galloway. "But it seems that demand is huge right now."

Bread baking is enjoying a pandemic-inspired renaissance. Stuck at home while physical distancing — and spurred by some combination of newfound domestic self-sufficiency and social media bandwagon hopping — legions of amateur bakers are trying their hand at making homemade loaves.

Taché said the company began to see orders increase starting in mid-March, shortly after public health officials began recommending physical distancing measures, which prompted panicked shopping of groceries including bread products and dry goods such as flour and yeast. 

At that time, the plant's demand from its industrial baking customers spiked.

"They've been producing massively to restock the shelves that were emptied out," he said.

Since then the company has had to ask some staff to cancel vacation time. "A lot of them are working overtime." 

One challenge is that the science behind making yeast can't really be hurried along. Yeast is a single-cell organism that multiplies by eating sugar and starch and converting it to alcohol and carbon dioxide, the latter which makes bread rise. 

It takes three or four hours to turn one cell into two, and another three or four hours to get four cells, Taché said.

At the Lasalle factory, they start with an amount of yeast about the size of the tip of a pen, "and after a week, we'll end up with around 400,000 litres of that yeast."

As for the home-baking trend, Taché said the pictures of loaves circulating on social media are part of the picture. "And also, baking bread is fun. It's relaxing. That smell that a good loaf of bread is going to give to your house is really rewarding." 

Written by Brandie Weikle. Produced by Julie Crysler.


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