Various food products are or will be difficult to access

Mustard, the one without which barbecues don’t have the same taste, may be missing this summer. You may have already realized this. It is one of the most spectacular shortages of the moment. But there are others. Empty shelves, some empty shelves in the supermarket. Details of Lionel Maugain, from the magazine 60 million consumers.

franceinfo: What exactly are these stock shortages, how do you explain them, what are these shortages today? How big are they?

Lionel Maugain: It’s on a scale never seen before. According to the supermarkets, there are products that are missing. First of all, mustard, but especially all oils, since sunflower oil is mainly produced in Ukraine and Russia. And the consumers knew very, very quickly, and they rushed to the shelves at the beginning of the war. The shelves were quickly emptied and this weekly.

There were postponements of purchases on other oils, rapeseed oil, peanut oil, butter could also be missing. Certainly because the milk collection was not at its maximum this spring, far from it. And so there is a lack of supplies. Lactalis warns: risk of shortage this summer. In reality, all the frying fat may be missing. Not only are they expensive, but they are likely to increase.

And the numbers you bring up are pretty impressive, about these shortages, stock outs in a quarter, a third of the supermarkets for certain products?

Normally, every department is 98% full during normal times. There we have a third to a quarter of the radius where the product is missing. So it is about oils, but also about everything that is derived and that depends on oils. For example, the mustard vinaigrette, the frozen potatoes that are made with oil, so it’s really new because in France we have such power in mass distribution that we’ve never experienced a situation like this.

It’s pretty spectacular these mustard stock outs, it’s missing for several reasons, and not just because of the war in Ukraine?

It is missing because we have run out of mustard seeds for a while. The main producing country in the world is Canada. They have already significantly reduced their mustard seed fields in favor of wheat, which was already more profitable back then. In addition, there was a disastrous harvest in 2021 due to a drought there. Production collapsed. This year we went from 135,000 tons to 71,000 tons.

And then the other exporting countries are Russia and Ukraine. And in France we grow a little bit of mustard and the one we prefer is brown mustard and brown mustard seed. Just, we had a problem, it’s that the main pest of mustard seed called the “great flea beetle” has destroyed more than half of certain crops. So it is a succession and a succession of facts that not only means that mustard cannot be made, but there is also the risk that it will run out for a long time.

What you see is that when these products run out, the demand increases, and it’s a bit of a vicious circle that sets in?

In these times when shopping is getting more and more expensive, we try to get good deals before the prices go up. After all, consumers quickly understood that the war in Ukraine would affect the supply of certain products and we are faced with empty shelves. And that has been going on for several weeks, since the spring.

How can things evolve?

What we’re seeing is distributors going out of their way to source products to stock their shelves, including brands we’re not familiar with. Every effort is therefore made to find alternative solutions and to serve the consumer.

These problems with access to certain raw materials, such as flour, are very important. We can also talk about eggs as there has been a massive slaughter of poultry, including laying hens, causing a shortage of eggs. But there are already brands that we do not know and that come from elsewhere, which is already the case for eggs, for flour, for oils. Anyway, we are still free from a real shortage, except perhaps that of mustard.

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