After more than a century operating from its temple to taste, an iconic mill in Oxfordshire, the family business produces the UK’s largest range of flours delivered directly to doorsteps. A cornucopia of crops, 27 different grains are milled by stones or rollers into 100 types of flour.
For bakers, the prospect of creating loaves made from heritage wheat blends such as Ancient Cotswold Crunch or taking pasta to new flavour popping places with the nutty Khorasan, makes their hearts skip a beat.
Sales are online, direct to bakeries and major retailers such as Tesco, Waitrose and Co-op Food while 60 per cent of its wheat is sourced from local farms in a 40-mile radius.
Next year Matthews expects a £14.4 million turnover and growth to remain steady at 12 per cent as it prioritises quality over quantity.
After a pivot away from commodity flour milling, the business moved into premium products with the emphasis on diversity to safeguard the brand.
Since then concerns about healthy living sparked by Covid, the avid home and craft baking trend, the impact of drought and blistering heat thanks to climate change along with food security driven by the war in the Ukraine have all fed into the sales surge Matthews has seen.
It has met that output challenge by increasing volumes and productivity, with its team of 45 temporarily working double shifts and more milling stones deployed.
A new colour separator now sorts the grain, picking out rogue spoilers such as poppy seeds that are then recycled.
“Demand is still holding up, our customers want quality, are aware of the wider risks we are all facing and that buying choices affect the whole food chain,” says Bertie Matthews, 31, who runs the business with father Paul, an organic flour pioneer.
Today that taking a stand continues with Matthews at the forefront of drives for better and more sustainable food production.
“Wholegrains have made a big resurgence, they are more nutritious and have a stronger taste profile,” says Bertie who aims for the mill to be powered by its own solar array and the business running on 100 percent renewable energy by 2032.
“We sit between healthy soils and farmers and bakers, and we’re working more closely with them than ever before,” he explains.
“We develop new flours every month and our future is centred on sourcing from regenerative farmers with the focus on soil, growers, nutrition and taste.
“We recognise initially that this incurs a cost with lower yields, but with collaboration and incentives we aim to overcome this so greater value is achieved in the long run.’
To this end Matthews is now beginning a 10-year study working with farmers who are practising generative methods, or who want to make the switch to improve their soil.
The aim is to develop a profitable model build on sound facts where research, comparative data and audits tracking traceability all contribute.
And for UK consumers facing price rises, Bertie suggests easing back on our love for big loaves which need wheat with high protein levels, something mainly achievable in the UK through imports or by applying more fertiliser.
Blending in lower protein wheat is another option but not possible on an industrial scale. Growing populations also need more wheat, but yield increases also lower protein levels.
But this not entirely a reap-what-you-sow dead end as good bread can also be made from lower protein wheat.
“It just takes some adjustment – making flat breads, tortillas, pies and naan breads which are all delicious,” Bertie points out.
“Our present intensive, industrialised food system will have trouble feeding us in 25 years’ time. We need to inspire the next generation to safeguard our harvests, so we invite those in all areas of the food chain to pay us a visit.”