Bread prices may be set to rise 

The next time you check, a baker’s dozen might, in fact, be just that — a dozen.

The chairman of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, Craig Ponsford, issued a warning Wednesday that bakers may soon be forced to raise the price of bread and other baked goods because of a soaring price of flour.

Ponsford, who owns Artisan Bakers in Sonoma, said the heftier cost of flour could be a result of increased global demand, a poor North American wheat crop and a drought in Australia, which cut that country’s production in half.

Those events, as well as an increased flour demand from China, pushed the price of flour up 30 percent in 2006 from 2005. The cost has remained at that peak since.

"Bakeries already operate on extremely slim margins, and this ongoing increase in the price of flour has put a stranglehold on bakers, leaving them little choice but to raise prices," Ponsford said.

San Francisco bread bakers are not immune to the shortage of flour, but do their best to make sure customers don’t pay for it.

Pascal Rigo, the owner of Boulange de Cole Valley on Cole Street, said he has been dealing with an ongoing, increased cost of flour for about four to five years. So far, he has been able to avoid raising his prices.

"I prefer to deal with the cost of ingredients than dealing with the cost of health care insurance," Rigo, whose business makes a lot of bread for Trader Joe’s, said. "We try to keep our prices affordable for everybody. It’s a problem, but it’s harder to tell people: I’m sorry, your croissant is going to be $4.50."

The flour dilemma, however, is affecting businesses in other ways: Rigo said some bakers might be using cheaper products and cutting back in other areas, including staffing, to handle the rising costs.

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