Question asked by Dominique, on May 20
After sunflower oil, another condiment is missing from the shelves of French supermarkets: mustard. On social networks, as in press headlines, eyes converge on the ingredient used in many preparations or as an accompaniment, which is deserting store shelves. You ask us about the causes of this “shortage”.
Unlike the oil shortages which were sudden after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, as we explained in a previous article, the drop in mustard production was mentioned long before, as early as December 2021. “Dijon mustard growers are already predicting lower production and higher prices for consumers”wrote Release in an article on the subject.
The reason: climate change. Although renowned for its famous Dijon mustard, France is not the biggest producer of brown mustard seeds, an essential ingredient in the preparation of the condiment. In this area, Canada is the world’s leading grower and exporter. But the North American country, which experienced severe droughts in the summer of 2021, has significantly reduced its production. A large part of the cultivated areas were ravaged and not renewed after this climatic episode. “For 2021-2022, production fell by 28%, due to lower yields and seeded area,” can we read in a report by the Canadian Department of Agriculture, published on November 19th. This decrease therefore caused a fall in exports and an increase in oilseed prices. “Therefore, the average price is expected to double compared to 2020-2021, and rise to the all-time high of US$1,700 [plus de 1 500 euros, ndlr] the ton”, emphasizes the ministry.
Supply at half mast
It is the mustard makers who pay the high price. Reine de Dijon, France’s third-largest mustard manufacturer – after Amora-Maille, which dominates the market – has seen its production drop by more than 20% in one year, due to supply difficulties. “The poor harvests are due to climatic hazards in Canada, but also in France, where some of the seeds we use to make Dijon mustard are grown”, explains Luc Vandermaesen, general manager of Reine de Dijon. Normally, up to 35% of the company’s needs are met by mustard seed produced directly in Burgundy. But this year, faced with poor returns, it only represents 20%.
The difference is then made up by importing seeds grown in Canada. Nevertheless “several Canadian contracts have been canceled by suppliers”, specifies the entrepreneur with CheckNews. Other purchase orders have been signed, but still “subject to” stocks. The manufacturer therefore has no certainty about its raw material supply. “It is not the first year that the harvest has been bad, but it is the first time that it has been so for several years in a row and that for all exporters”, insists Luc Vandermaesen. With Russia and Ukraine being the third largest exporters, there is even greater uncertainty about Ukrainian yields for the upcoming harvest in Eastern Europe.
Agricultural sector in difficulty
Local farmers united under the Association of Burgundy Mustard Seed Producers (APGMB), nevertheless represent nearly “50% of European production”, according to their website. Contacted by CheckNewsFabrice Genin, president of the organization, insists on the difficulties of the French agricultural sector. “For five years, we have seen a drop in productivity of almost 50%. Today we supply French manufacturers with everything we can in quantity, without having any stock.“, he breathes.
“From 12,000 tonnes in 2016, we have increased to 4,000 tonnes in 2021”, supports Fabrice Genin. French growers face various constraints, climatic on the one hand, but also the reversal concerning the ban on the use of phytosanitary products in Europe, according to them. “We can no longer repel pests”, he explains, referring to the insects that have caused many losses in the fields in recent years. The insecticides hitherto used to eradicate them are now banned.
Fabrice Genin also cites another obstacle to the development of the French sector, the difficulty “to attract new farmers”. Over the past five years, they have gone from “nearly 350 producers to 250”, he specifies. Especially since the mustard seed is a “fragile and complicated culture”compared to sunflower, whose deficit created by the war in Ukraine, the leading oilseed exporting country, could encourage new growers to get started.
Overconsumption in a stressed market
Sales of mustards thus fell by 10.8% in volume over the first four months of 2022 compared to 2021 over the same period, according to data from the specialized institute IRI, provided to CheckNews. On the other hand, sales increased in value by 7.4% between January and April compared to the previous year, which perfectly reflects current market trends. The price of mustard has indeed exploded with an increase of 9.26% in one year, according to an IRI study, published in April. But if the supply decreases, the demand increases. With visible consequences on prices.
Contacted by CheckNewsthe Casino group, which brings together several supermarket chains (Franprix, Monoprix, Casino, Spar, etc.), notes that “Shortages of mustard seed are indeed impacting the supplies of all our brands and may be visible in some of our stores”. In Franprix stores, for example, sales of mustard “have been multiplied by 1.5 or even 2 for two weeks”. The brand, which does not give a sales quota per customer to date, interprets the increase in sales by a “overconsumption”visible on the “stocks in stores which tend to sell out very quickly, as soon as they go on sale”, worsening a market already “in tension”.
Can we speak of a shortage for all that? “We are faced with a rational behavior of consumers, who when the shelves are empty, will want to stock up so as not to run out of the food”, analyzes Pascale Hébel, Associate Director at C-Ways, interviewed by CheckNews. The expert compares this “storage”, to that of toilet paper or flour at the start of confinement, in March 2020. Regarding the shortages recorded in France for a few months, sunflower oil, like mustard, Pascale Hébel specifies that they are not, in the immediately, attributable to the war in Ukraine. “Today we associate shortages with Ukraine, but it will only really be after the summer that we will be able to say that, because the seed harvests are done in summer. France is therefore facing shortages linked to storage and not directly attributable to the conflict in Eastern Europe”, insists the specialist.
Climate change could, however, affect other sectors in the future. “We are not immune to facing similar climate problems in the coming years and therefore inflation in the price of raw materials”recalls Pascale Hébel.