First wheat shipment

The country’s first load of imported wheat is put on a lorry at the King’s Wharf in Suva (1973). Picture: FILE

The future of Fiji’s food manufacturing industry changed forever when a shipment of wheat landed on our shores in July 1973. It was just another day at Fiji’s seaport.

But for the first time in history, it would mean shops selling flour milled in Fiji on their shelves.

The shipment of 1200 tons of Australian wheat was for the new Flour Mills of Fiji Ltd mill at Walu Bay in Suva.

The plant made a series of test runs on July 23 and 24, milling wheat took about a month to grace shop shelves.

“Quality is most important and after having waited for the mill for 18 months, we don’t want to rush things for the sake of five or 10 days,” FMF Ltd’s managing director Jayant Vithaldas was quoted in The Fiji Times of July 12, 1973, as saying.

The first samples of flour milled were given to bakers and biscuit makers for their feedback on product quality.

The mill was to satisfy the growing need for sharp, wholemeal, bran, pollard and normal flour for both commercial and household consumption.

The first consignment of wheat came in the Sofrana Line’s cargo vessel, Capitaine Wallis.

The commodity was first vacuumed from the ship’s hold and transferred to a mobile hopper on the wharf and on to a waiting lorry on King’s Wharf.

That initial wheat import sparked the beginning of food manufacturing in Fiji and the provision of products such as biscuits, bread and other baked commodities pack out stores and grace our meal tables today.

Wheat or muslin is among Fiji’s largest food imports while wheat products are among the top agricultural-based exports to Pacific Island countries.

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