Scarcity of mustard seeds causes seed prices to soar, limiting some supplies of the spice

Industry experts say the shortage of mustard seeds is driving up prices and could leave some store shelves short of supplies before the new harvest hits the market this fall.

France, the world’s most popular consumer of the spice, is facing shortages while other countries are seeing prices climb as last year’s stock of mustard seeds dwindled.

The problem can be traced back to Canada Prairies, where most of the world’s mustard seeds are grown.

A drop in the number of acres planted in Saskatchewan and Alberta last year combined with a severe summer drought meant crop yields were much lower than usual.

In Saskatchewan, for example, about 300,000 acres or about 120,000 hectares were seeded with mustard last year, down about 25% from the 10-year average of 400,000 acres (about 160,000 hectares), according to provincial figures. .

Then, the hot dry weather severely damaged the crops.

“The heat we got last July was absolutely devastating,” said Stuart Smyth, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“The mustard seed yield is only 35% of the 10-year average.”

The price of yellow orchids has increased steadily since then.

For example, a hundred pounds of yellow mustard seeds, about 45 kilograms, cost more than $150 a week ago – three times the price of $50 a year ago, according to the Saskatchewan farm price database. .

Brown mustard seeds, used in Dijon-style mustard, cost $182.33 a hundred pounds a week ago, compared with $45 a year ago.

However, for mustard producers, high prices are only half the battle.

Some are struggling to even find enough Canadian seeds to buy.

“I bought mustard seeds this spring…and I almost had to beg the vendor to sell it to me,” says Eric Giesbrecht, a chef and owner of Brassica Mustard.

“It was probably the last £2,000 he had and he was worried he wouldn’t have enough to fulfill his other orders.”

The Calgary-based business owner ended up paying about 400% more than usual – a monstrous cost increase he mostly had to accept.

“Using Canadian mustard seeds is only part of my company’s identity, so importing seeds is not an option,” says Giesbrecht.

Kraft Heinz Co., the company that makes Heinz Yellow Mustard and the Dijon Gray Poupon mustard brand, says the shortage only affects the brown mustard seeds it uses in the Dijon variety.

The company said that as soon as a potential supply problem was identified, it worked to find other sources of brown mustard seeds in different parts of the world.

“We’ve also worked to prioritize (stocking units) in the Gray Poupon category that we know are customer favorites to ensure that we avoid shortages. those key products,” the company said in an emailed statement.

No one from Dijon mustard maker Maille Canada, a subsidiary of Unilever, could be reached for comment.

McCormick & Co., Inc., the French mustard producer, says it is not experiencing a shortage of mustard seeds.

The company attributes its inventory position to its “flexible global supply chain and strong sourcing capabilities.”

Canadian grocers have directed mustard supply requirements to the Retail Council of Canada.

Michelle Wasylyshen, a spokeswoman for the retail industry group, said Canadians shouldn’t worry about food availability even though “there may be times when consumers will have to look for alternatives and replace position.”

“In Canada, last year’s mustard harvest was hit hard by drought and this has affected yields,” she said.

“We don’t produce a lot of mustard in the country, but supply the seeds to other countries that then produce the actual seasoning.”

Indeed, the shortage underscores how few mustard seeds are grown in Canada here to be processed into a condiment.

“It’s a missed opportunity,” said Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

“Our process area needs help developing expertise and capabilities.”

While stores in Canada appear to be well-stocked so far, it may only be a matter of time before broader mustard market conditions affect retail activity here, he said. speak.

“It took a while before material shortages made their way through the supply chain,” Charlebois said.

“Most likely we will be short of mustard but it could happen a little later in Canada.”

Unlike in France, where Dijon mustard is a kitchen staple almost as common as salt and pepper, Canadians tend to buy mustard only once every six months or less and can easier to replace, says Charlebois.

“We could actually see less supply at some point but it won’t be a disaster and it will be short-lived.”

Meanwhile, scientists warn climate change could lead to more frequent and severe droughts in the Prairies, a situation that could affect future crop yields.

But Smyth said drought management has improved dramatically in recent years, which should help maximize harvest.

This year so far, he said, the growing season is promising, offering plenty of room for a healthy harvest this fall.

In addition, the number of acres planted is increased.

Saskatchewan farmers have planted about 550,000 acres of mustard this year, or about 220,000 hectares, up nearly 40 percent from the 10-year average, according to provincial data.

“If conditions stay here for the next four to six weeks, we’ll be in good shape,” Smyth said.

“Certainly by the time we roll out the Christmas mincemeat we’ll have plenty of Dijon for it.”

This Canadian Press report was first published on July 25, 2022

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