Mustard shortage fuels ‘drama’ and ‘panic’ in France

PARIS — It was the local egg delivery man who spread the hottest gossip about the shortage of mustard.

Someone in a small French town has found a way to buy two jars at the supermarket – despite the limitation imposed by many stores as the country faces a shortage of its beloved condiment.

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“The audacity!” said Claire Dinhut, who heard about the mustard scandal from the “messenger of the eggs” while staying at her family’s home south of Tours, in west-central India. Francewhile sharing the “drama of the city” in a video of the TikTok which has been viewed over 600,000 times. How the mustard bandit did it: he left the store with a jar and sneaked back for a second, passing the groceries to a different salesman.

Just as barbecues reach their peak of popularity in the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the extra demand for the spicy condiment is also growing in season, which has led France to face a weeks-long mustard shortage.

For some, it seems terrible – a personal consequence of the weather extremes that decimated the supply of mustard seeds in and out of France, and the supply chain disruptions that still reverberate around the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. coronavirus. The shortage is prompting calls to intensify the production of mustard seeds on national soil, to depend less on other countries.

O The Washington Post visited four grocery stores in western Paris this week that either had no mustard for sale or were without two common brands of mustard – Maille and Amora, which are part of the same company owned by Unilever.

“I haven’t had mustard for three months. You won’t find either (nowhere else),” said Hassan Talbi, who owns a bodega on Rue de Courcelles. Talbi says his supplier, French retailer Carrefour, sent him a shipment of jars of mustard about two months ago — and nothing since. No word on when he might get more.

Mustard is a staple in the diet of most French people – adding a serving every time to fries and sandwiches – and a key ingredient in iconic dishes like steak tartare. It is also a source of national pride: mustard production was regulated in France as early as the Middle Agesand the world famous Dijon mustard comes from the region of Burgundy. While historians say mustard was not invented in France, many French people claim it is theirs.

People gather in a mustard shop at the opening of the Dijon International Wine and Gastronomy Center.
People gather in a mustard shop at the opening of the Dijon International Wine and Gastronomy Center. Photograph: Jeff Pachoud/ AFP – 06/05/2022

“This is a sauce that is loved around the world – and it’s ours,” Dinhut told The Washington Post.

However, despite being the biggest consumer of mustard in the world, France only has around 4,500 hectares of planted mustard seeds – most of it in Burgundy, home to the city of Dijon.

Droughts and heat waves that occurred last year in Canada – the source of about 80% of France’s mustard seed imports – have severely disrupted global supply. Containers for transporting food are hard to come by, and the high cost of fuel has caused shipping costs to skyrocket. French growers say insects that feed on mustard seeds, which thrive in warmer temperatures, are also harming crops.

All of this has caused serious reflection among French mustard farmers and lovers on how they got to this point. The shortage could be “a tremendous accelerator” for the industry to repatriate mustard seed production, Paul-Olivier Claudepierre, co-owner of Martin-Pouret, a French agri-food company, told the French newspaper. Le Monde.

People are also blaming mustard hoarders: French people who read about the shortage and decided to stock up on extra mustard could be fueling the problem, growers say.

On TikTok, the French posted instructions on how to make mustard at home. Conspiracy theories are also rife online, with some users sharing videos that they say show stocks of mustard in supermarket warehouses and speculate that companies are withholding the condiment to artificially raise prices. These videos have been debunked and retailers like Carrefour have said they are putting mustard on shelves as quickly as possible.

Mustard plantation in the French town of Bourlon.
Mustard plantation in the French town of Bourlon. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/ REUTERS – 11/06/2017

Hubert Guillaume and Naël Bernard, who work in Paris at Monoprix, a supermarket chain, said they were relieved when they received a shipment of mustard last week after a month without it. “People came in droves to ask us, and there was nothing,” Guillaume said. Some people came every day, said Bernard, hoping the mustard had arrived. Every day, he had to send them away.

This is literally the talk of the town. Where Dinhut’s father lives, in central western France – and in other small towns like this – “if you’re shopping at a grocery store, for example, you’re like, ‘Oh, still no mustard!’ It’s like talking about the weather,” she said.

Comedians in France and elsewhere took advantage of the shortage to mock the French for their dramatic reactions.

The shortage started in Canada, where exceptionally dry and hot weather in the Alberta and Saskatchewan regions last year led to reduced harvests. The country is the world’s largest mustard seed exporter, accounting for 31% of global exports, according to market research firm Tridge. France is the second largest importer of mustard seeds, which are used to make the creamy yellow condiment.

Meanwhile, mustard seed crops grown in France have been hit hard by insects this year, says Paul Delacour, who works on his parents’ farm northwest of Paris, which produces the seeds locally.

Delacour and other producers say French and European restrictions on certain harmful pesticides could hamper the response.

Climate change has also played a role, according to Fabrice Genin, president of the Burgundy Mustard Seed Growers Association, who says milder winters have been more favorable to insects.

“Of 12,000 tons (from mustard seeds produced) in 2016, we dropped to 4,000 tons in 2021. It’s simple, we can no longer control pests,” Genin told the French newspaper. liberation. “There is (also) a climatic effect, that is obvious”.

It’s not just an offer: when there’s mustard, it’s more expensive. Low supply from Canada, combined with inflation around the world and rising cost of transport, energy and raw materials for packaging, contributed to a rise in the price of mustard in France – at least 13% in June compared to the previous year. previous year, according to French retail data company IRi.

Marc Désarménien, general manager of Edmond Fallot, a family-owned mustard producer based in Burgundy, says the price of his products has risen by 9% on average at the start of the year and will rise again next year to keep up with inflation. But he believes that if Canadian mustard seeds become more expensive and shortages continue to plague French growers, domestic production will increase.

In Burgundy, where growers agree in advance on a price per ton of seed for the year, next year’s price has been set at 2,000 euros (R$10,566 at current exchange rates) for the 2023 crop, reports local newspaper Ouest France – an increase of 48% compared to this year’s price of around 1,350 euros (R$ 7,132). Burgundy mustard producer groups believe this could make local production more profitable. Until now, importing seeds from Canada was 15% to 20% cheaper than sowing and harvesting in France, according to Désarménien.

“This is an opportunity for the agricultural sector to reallocate production,” Claudepierre, from the agri-food company Martin-Pouret, told Le Monde – “and for the public to realize the absurdity of the situation: we grow a seed thousands of kilometers away that we are going to harvest, bring it to the port, cross the ocean in a container, and end up turning it into a home”, he said, claiming that it is expensive logistics and bad for the environment.

But even if the shortage does lead to a change in the way mustard is made in France, the process “will take a little time,” Désarménien said. And many producers do not expect the shortage to be resolved soon.

“I’m afraid it will take a little longer before we can restock,” Luc Vandermaesen, chairman of the Burgundy Mustard industrial group, told Le Monde this month. “It will be tense until 2024″.

That is if the French can wait that long.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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