Several food products are or will be difficult to access

Mustard, the one without which barbecues don’t have the same flavor, could well be lacking 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 from Lionel Maugain, from the magazine 60 Million consumers.

franceinfo: What exactly are these stock shortages, how to 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, mustard, but above all, all oils since sunflower oil is mainly produced in Ukraine and Russia. And consumers knew it very, very quickly and they rushed to the shelves at the start of the war. The shelves were emptied quickly and this every week.

There were postponements of purchases on other oils, rapeseed oil, peanut oil, butter could also be missing. Especially since the milk collection this spring was not at its maximum, far from it. And so there is a lack of stocks. Lactalis issues an alert: risk of shortage this summer. All the frying fat in reality, may be missing. Not only are they expensive, but they are likely to increase.

And the figures you put forward are quite impressive, on these shortages, stock-outs in a quarter, a third of supermarkets for certain products?

Usually, in normal times, each department is 98% stocked. There, we have a third to a quarter of the radius where the product is missing. So it concerns oils, but also everything that is derived and that depends on oils. For example, the mustard vinaigrette, the frozen potatoes which are made with oil, so it’s really new because we have such a power in France of mass distribution that we don’t had never experienced a situation like this.

It is quite spectacular these stock-outs for mustard, it is missing for several reasons, and not only because of the war in Ukraine?

It’s missing because we’ve been running out of mustard seeds for a while. The leading 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 at the time. And on top of that, there was a disastrous harvest in 2021 due to a drought there. Production collapsed. We went from 135,000 tonnes to 71,000 tonnes this year.

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

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

In these times when purchases are more and more expensive, we try to get good deals before prices increase. Indeed, consumers quickly understood that the war in Ukraine was going to have consequences on the supply of certain products and we are faced with empty shelves. And that’s been going on for several weeks, since spring.

How can things evolve?

What we see is that distributors are doing everything to obtain products to supply their shelves, including brands that we don’t know. So everything is done to find alternative solutions and to serve consumers.

These problems of access to certain raw materials, like flour too, are very important. We can also talk about eggs, since there has been a massive slaughter of poultry, including laying hens, which has caused a shortage of eggs. But there are already brands that we don’t know that come from elsewhere, which is already the case for eggs, for flour, for oils. But hey, we are still safe from a real shortage, except perhaps that of mustard.

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