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I don't know if this is the case everywhere, but at least here in Germany: The same amount (usually 1kg) of grains - for human consumption - costs 3-10 times as much as flour. This holds at least for wheat, rye, oats.


Where did I get that information?

https://www.supermarktcheck.de allows checking prices in many different (German) stores. Here is what I found for wheat:

  • For "Weizen" (=wheat) the cheapest grains I found there is "Davert Weizen" costing 1.19€per kg, and the most expensive is "Davita Bio Kamut Khorasan Weizen" costing 3.58€ per kg.
  • For "Mehl" (=flour), which ist usually wheat flour, the cheapest I found there is "Jeden Tag Weizenmehl Typ 405" costing 0.35€ per kg.

I also checked prices for wheat grains as animal food (which do not need to be as clean, so should be cheaper) e.g. on amazon.de. The cheapest I found there was 0.83€ per kg, so it's price is still more than twice the price of the cheapest flour.


Why is that so?

Shouldn't it be cheaper than flour, since

  • the milling step can be omitted?
  • grains can be stored longer and more easily than flour? (Flour has no protection against e.g. oxygen any more since it's broken down; fats become rancid more quickly.)

Since some people want references to my claim that grains can be stored longer: Look here or here.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi! Can you please support your statement with a reference? I am guessing that you are talking about a high quality/branded wheat product, but it is difficult to know without a reference. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Mar 8 at 7:34
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    $\begingroup$ Hi @Kjara. Just a stab in the dark. But perhaps this represents the opportunity cost of not converting these grains into flour (i.e. grain might sit on the shelves longer, when otherwise it could be sold as flour). $\endgroup$
    – EB3112
    Mar 9 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt that "4-10 times as much" is true. E.g. at the German retailer dm, 1 kg of organic wheat grains costs 93% more than 1 kg of organic wheat flour: dm.de/dmbio-getreide-weizen-naturland-p4058172389788.html. Taking into account that 1 kg of grains returns at most 0.79 kg of flour, the markup reduces to 53%. That's easily explained by the difference in willingness-to-pay of consumer groups targeted by whole grains and flour. $\endgroup$
    – VARulle
    Mar 10 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ I found a similar pattern in the UK: 500g flour at £0.39 here ... $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 13:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ... and 500g wheat grains at £5.49 here. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 13:32

3 Answers 3

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The following is a partial explanation.

There are valuable by-products from the milling of wheat: bran and wheat germ (see here). These by-products typically sell for a much higher price per weight than white flour. Some examples of UK prices:

Thus the profit a firm makes from milling wheat will be the excess over its costs of its income from sales of all these products. Because of the by-products, it can earn a profit while selling white flour at a lower price than would otherwise be the case.

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  • $\begingroup$ For a comparison of the whole wheat grain price and the whole wheat flour price, please see my answer. $\endgroup$
    – H2ONaCl
    Mar 16 at 23:57
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Few things come to my mind are product differentiation, price discrimination, economies of scale, vertical integration, and maybe regulations.

  • I feel because grain is more organic in a sense than flour as it is not(less) processed, there is a clear case of product differentiation, and can be marketed as such to be sold at higher prices. The firms providing grains may discriminate and charge higher prices for grain because they know consumers may be willing to pay more, because of it being differentiated by being more organic.

  • If you are a well established flour mill it is very likely you have some sort of vertical integration going on, meaning you own a farm maybe, so that you are able to provide the raw material to your mill in order to make flour, allowing you to put flour out at a lower price. Combine this with a big sized firm with economies of scale due a large production process, and you can have a lower priced product.

  • The government may consider flour to be essential component of diet, due to which its production may be subsidized or there may be price caps on it.

This is a very general Microeconomics 101 sort of answer to this question, but it is based in economic reasoning and hopefully helps.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia says... "Organic farming is an agricultural system that uses fertilizers of organic origin such as compost manure, green manure, and bone meal and places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting." This means grains and flour can both be certified as organic. The flour being more processed does not make it non-organic. $\endgroup$
    – H2ONaCl
    Mar 16 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ @H2ONaCl Valid point, but you can still market it as less processed and more organic and differentiate it in that manner. These do not have to adhere to the exact definition of "organic" per say but are more of marketing tricks. Also generally flour is artificially enriched with minerals and vitamins, but there are consumers who would prefer the opposite. $\endgroup$
    – Rumi
    Mar 19 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ It's not simply a marketing choice. There is regulation governing third party certifiers. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$
    – H2ONaCl
    Mar 21 at 18:02
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In a proper comparison grains do not cost more than flour.

Wheat kernels...

hard wheat kernels

Whole wheat flour...

hard whole wheat flour

Obviously a certain processing step has not been applied to the kernels so it should have a lower price and so it does. You posted a link to wholegrainscouncil.org which says that flour (of a type unspecified so it might be whole wheat flour or regular flour) perishes faster than kernels. That also helps to explain why flour has a higher price.

These screen shots were taken from bulkbarn.ca on 2022 March 16.

The comparison you described in your posted question is sub-optimal because you were comparing wheat kernels to regular flour which has the bran and germ removed. A better comparison is to compare kernels to whole wheat flour, which is what I have done here. Another problem is that you cited supermarktcheck.de which might draw upon prices that offer various levels of convenience such as superior packaging, convenient sizes, convenient high rent locations, and other factors. In order to compare commodities it would be better to get quotes from a bulk store which is what I have done.

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