The Canadian baking industry consists of companies that manufacture bread, cakes, pastries and similar perishable bakery products. Manufacturing of breadlike products goes back to antiquity, but the first known production of leavened bread occurred in Egypt after the process of fermentation was discovered about 4000 years ago. Modern breads only began appearing a little over 100 years ago.
In early Canada, bread was produced in the home. As communities appeared, small bakeries were established to supply village needs; some of these bakeries gradually evolved into today's major commercial baking establishments. It has been estimated that in 1900 only 8% of Canadian housewives bought bread; by the early 1960s, more than 95% of homemakers regularly purchased bread and the bulk of their bakery requirements from commercial bakeries.
The Canadian baking industry has a sound reputation for product improvement. For example, during WWII government concern about the lack of iron in the diets of some Canadians led to the decision to add iron to the bread supply. Canada became one of the first countries to adopt this standard. Then, in 1953, the Canadian industry introduced vitamin-enriched bread. This bread proved to be the ideal food to deliver extra necessary vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin and niacin to consumers.
During the last 40 years, dramatic changes have occurred in the baking industry. Modern technology has led to increasingly large and more sophisticated production operations, which in turn have created excess production capacity in many parts of the country. At the same time, road and rail improvements have increased distribution capability. Finally, efficient new packaging systems and materials have greatly extended the "shelf life" of many bakery products. Thus, a modern wholesale baking company can easily supply many products to markets over 800 km from a central plant base. Consequently, smaller regional plants have been phased out.
As is the case with all other sectors of the food and beverage industry the baking sector must comply with a great many federal, provincial and municipal government regulations (see Food Legislation). For example, packaging guidelines have been established by Consumer and Corporate Affairs Canada; the Health Protection Branch of Health Canada is concerned with plant sanitation and related subjects.
At the national level the industry is represented by the Baking Association of Canada. There has been a steady decline in the number of commercial baking operations: in 1939 the number of producing baking plants was reported at 3231; by 1981, it was 1431.
Published statistics on the baking industry also undergo periodic changes in definition. For example, bakeries baking their own products and selling them over the counter are now classified as retail establishments. The effect of such changes has been to reduce further the number of "bakeries": in 1997 Statistics Canada recognized only 523.
In 1973, with 1690 plants in operation, the industry achieved an annual value of factory shipments of about $598.4 million. Materials and supplies for bread and related bakery products cost over $259 million. Cost of fuel and electricity was $11.9 million. At that time the industry employed more than 28 000 workers. By 1997, its sales had reached $2.7 billion and employment had declined to 20 344.