Weetabix has halted production of Minis and Oatibix Bites due to the poor quality of the UK wheat harvest.
Last year’s wheat crop was one of the worst in decades, and the supplier - which is committed to using only British wheat - has been forced to stop producing all but one line in the two mini ranges while it changes its production methods to counteract the poor quality of the wheat.
The news comes three months after bread brand Hovis was forced to renege on its 100%-British wheat commitment because of the poor harvest.
“The lower density of the wheat from last year’s harvest has led to operational issues,” said a spokesman for Weetabix Food Company, adding that the changes being made to the production process had resulted in “significant” engineering work and had forced it to reduce output at the Burton Latimer site that produces Minis.
The wheat problem had been building since last year’s poor harvest, the spokesman said, but the company did not run into significant capacity problems until late last month when it notified retailers.
Production of all Minis variants excluding chocolate chip - the most popular - had been halted. “The chocolate chip variant has been our priority to keep in stock,” said the company. Production of Oatibix Bites, which do not contain wheat, has been halted as a knock-on effect of the changes.
Weetabix would not say what volume of product had been affected by the stoppage, but claimed the issue was “nearly” resolved and that the products would be back in full production shortly.
Supermarkets have been running out of Minis, and have put up notices alerting shoppers to the issue. Weetabix is issuing a statement to consumers who contact it that reads: “Unfortunately, we have encountered a number of technical difficulties in recent weeks and we have been unable to make mini biscuits that meet our high standards of excellence.” It also assures consumers the company is doing “everything we can to resolve this situation as quickly as possible”, and offers a voucher to put towards their next purchase.
Investec analyst Martin Deboo said it was the quality and low protein content of the wheat harvest, rather than its lower yield, that had caused problems for suppliers. Planting for the coming season had been poor, he added. “The early signs are not good because of the cold weather during the planting season,” he said. “There may be a small-sized harvest in terms of tonnage, but much will depend on the summer weather.”
Weetabix said it had concerns over the low level of planting for this year but remained committed to UK sourcing.