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The shortage of mustard in France sows panic and calls for the repatriation of seeds

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PARIS — It was the local egg deliveryman who spread the most piquant gossip about the mustard shortage.

Someone in a small French town had found a way to buy two jars at the grocery store – despite the one-mustard cap imposed by many stores as the country faces a shortage of its beloved condiment.

“Boldness! said Claire Dinhut, who heard about the local mustard scandal from the egg courier while at her family home south of Tours in central-western France as she shared the “city drama” in a TikTok video that has been viewed over 600,000 times. How the mustard bandit did it: He left the store with a pot and snuck out for a second while checking in with another salesperson.

As summer barbecues – and additional demand for the tangy condiment – ​​reach their peak, France is in the grip of a mustard shortage that has lasted for weeks.

To some, that sounds dire – a personal consequence of the extreme weather conditions that have decimated the supply of mustard seed in France and abroad, and supply chain disruptions are still reverberating around the world at home. following the coronavirus pandemic. The shortage is prompting calls to bring mustard seed production home to reduce reliance on other countries.

The Washington Post visited four grocery stores in western Paris this week that either had no mustard for sale or no longer had two common mustard brands – 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 any [elsewhere either]said Hassan Talbi, owner of a bodega rue de Courcelles. Talbi says his supplier, French retailer Carrefour, sent him a shipment of jars of mustard about two months ago – and since then, nothing. No word on when he might get more.

Mustard is a staple of most French diets – adding a kick to fries and sandwiches – and a key ingredient in iconic dishes like steak tartare. It’s also a source of national pride: mustard production was regulated in France as early as the Middle Ages, and the famous Dijon mustard originated in the Burgundy region. While historians say mustard was not invented in France, many French people claim it as their own.

“It’s a sauce that’s loved around the world — and it’s ours,” Dinhut told The Post.

Yet despite being the world’s largest consumer of mustard, France has only around 4,500 hectares (about 11,000 acres) of mustard seed crops – most of it in Burgundy, home to the city of Dijon.

Last year’s droughts and heat waves in Canada – the source of around 80% of French mustard seed imports – severely disrupted global supplies. Containers for transporting foodstuffs are hard to come by and the high cost of fuel has caused shipping costs to skyrocket. French growers say mustard seed-eating insects, which thrive in warmer temperatures, also foil crops.

All of this has caused some serious soul-searching among farmers and French mustard enthusiasts about how they got here. 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 food company, told French newspaper Le Monde.

A little Dijon on the side: the French city is much more than mustard

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

On TikTok, French people posted instructions for making mustard at home. Conspiracy theories also abound online, with some users sharing videos claiming to show stocks of mustard in supermarket warehouses and speculating that companies hoarded the condiment to artificially drive up prices. These videos have been debunked and retailers like Carrefour have said they get mustard off the shelves as quickly as possible.

Hubert Guillaume and Naël Bernard, who work in Paris at a Monoprix 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, Bernard said, hoping the mustard had arrived. Every day he had to refuse them.

It’s literally the talk of the town. Where Dinhut’s father lives in west-central France – and other small towns like this – “If you shop at a grocery store for example, you say to yourself ‘Ah, still no mustard !’ It’s like talking about the weather,” she says.

Comedians from France and other countries took advantage of the shortage to mock the French for their dramatic reactions.

The shortage began in Canada, where unusually dry and hot weather in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan last year led to lower crop yields. The country is the world’s largest exporter of mustard seeds, 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 growers say French and European restrictions on some harmful pesticides may make their response more difficult.

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 better for insects.

“From 12,000 tonnes [of mustard seed produced] in 2016, we went down to 4,000 tonnes in 2021. It’s simple, we can’t manage the pests anymore,” Genin told French newspaper Liberation. “There is a climate effect, that’s obvious.”

It’s not just the supply: when there’s mustard to be found, it’s more expensive. Low supply from Canada, combined with global inflation and rising costs for shipping, energy and raw materials for packaging, has contributed to a rise in the price of mustard in France – d at least 13% year-on-year in June, according to French retail data firm IRi.

Marc Désarménien, managing director of Edmond Fallot, a family-run mustard producer based in Burgundy, says the price of his produce rose 9% on average at the start of the year, and will rise further 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 pre-agree on a price per tonne of seed for the year, next year’s price has been set at 2,000 euros ($2,029) for the 2023 harvest, reports local newspaper Ouest France – a 48% increase from this year’s price of around 1,350 euros ($1,370). Burgundy mustard producer groups believe this could make local production more profitable. Until now, importing seeds from Canada has cost 15 to 20 percent less than sowing and harvesting them in France, according to Désarménien.

“This is an opportunity for the agricultural sector to relocate production,” Claudepierre, of agribusiness Martin-Pouret, told Le Monde – “and for the public to realize the absurdity of the situation: we’re growing a seed thousands of miles away that we’re going to harvest, bring to port, cross the ocean in a container, and end up processing at home. It’s “expensive,” he says, and bad for us. ‘environment.

But even if the shortage leads to a change in how mustard is made in France, the process “will take a bit of time,” Désarménien said. And many growers don’t expect the shortage to correct anytime soon.

“I’m afraid it will take a little while before we can restock,” Luc Vandermaesen, president of the Mustarde de Bourgogne industrial group, told Le Monde this month. “It will be tense until 2024.”

If the French can wait that long.

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