Joseph Hansen

Selling Water in a Bread Wrapper

(24 August 1946)

Source: The Militant, Vol. 10 No. 34, 24 August 1946, p. 8.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2021 by Einde O’Callaghan.
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Have you noticed lately how water collects in the toaster when you put in a slice of bakery bread? Have you noticed how the bread shrivels up as the heat drives out the moisture? Maybe you thought it was just a damp day or something was wrong with the toaster.

If you’ll read page 8,741 of the July 11, 1946, Congressional Record you’ll discover the real reason for those beads of water in your toaster. In 1942, says the Record, the Federal Trade Commission made an inquiry into Competition and Profits in Bread and Flour. This Commission reported that back in 1922 the big baking companies got 285 pounds of bread out of a 196-pound barrel of flour. That’s putting a lot of fluff in honest flour. But by September 1942 these profit-gougers were getting 300 pounds of bread out of the same barrel of flour. The increase was mainly due to a “higher moisture content!”

In other words, these short-change artists were running an extra 15 pounds of water across the counter for every barrel of flour they dumped into the bread mixer. How much more water the food trust has succeeded in getting inside a bread wrapper since 1942 is not revealed.

The stepped-up dividends from this profitable little operation were pocketed by the food trust, naturally. The farmers who grow wheat never saw a red cent of the pay-off. In fact their share in the money rung up on the cash register for a loaf of bread actually decreased.

In 1922 a farmer got 1.14 cents out of a loaf whose average price was 8.55 cents. In 1942 he got only 1.03 cents. Yet the price of bread had risen meanwhile to 9.27 cents.

Since 1942, of course, the picture is much worse. Not only has the loaf been lopped in weight until it begins to look more like a sandwich, but prices are shooting up so fast the food trust can hardly keep the printed price-bands up to date.

The 1942 inquiry of the Federal Trade Commission reveals some interesting figures on how the price pyramids in a loaf of bread. After the farmer was paid off 1.03 cents, the country elevators added .06 cents. Then the transportation agencies laid on a tariff of .13 cents.

Next the terminal elevators levied .08 cents a loaf. The mills listed costs at .32 cents and added .11 cents for “profits.” Then the transportation agencies got another cut on hauling the flour — .13 cents. The big bakeries figured costs of ingredients “other than flour” (including ingredients out of the water tap) at 1.06 cents. On top of this they added 3.81 for production and distribution. Still not satisfied, they added .45 for “profits.”

Now the retailers come in. They stacked on 2.09 cents, making the final price 9.27 cents.

To track down how much the profiteers in this chain gouge the public under the new OPA would be a worthwhile project for a committee of consumers. With some good union backing.


Last updated on: 18 June 2021