Dijon mustard is hard to find in France and Canada is partly to blame

·3 min read
Canada is the world’s second largest producer of mustard seed, thanks to ideal growing conditions in the Prairies. (Mike McCleary/Associated Press - image credit)
Canada is the world’s second largest producer of mustard seed, thanks to ideal growing conditions in the Prairies. (Mike McCleary/Associated Press - image credit)

A staple on the shelves of grocery stores and in refrigerators across France is in short supply, and an end to the shortage is months away.

"It's pretty bad. The shelves are pretty empty," Luc Vandermaesen told CBC's The Homestretch.

Vandermaesen — the managing director at Reine de Dijon, a mustard producer based in France — is talking about the global shortage of Dijon mustard.

"We find some products here and there, but it's very seldom to get full shelves. When we see some mustard, it's mostly limited to one or two types or jars and the rest [of the shelves] are totally empty."

Thanks to ideal growing conditions in the Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada is the second largest producer of mustard seeds, just behind Nepal, and holds 57 per cent of the global export market.

"Each French person buys about one kilogram of mustard a year," Vandermaesen said.

"People are really used to having mustard in the fridge, and when it's missing they don't know what to do without it. It's pretty useful for a lot of purposes, to make a vinaigrette, a mayonnaise, a sauce, a dressing, and just on the side of a plate for meat and sometimes vegetables."

He said this kind of shortage has not happened for 50 to 60 years.

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"It is very new to be facing such a shortage on a typical product of French cuisine. The seeds are coming mostly from Canada. We do grow some seeds in France, but the quantities are not sufficient to cover all the needs of the French industry."

He says climate change, including a heat dome affecting the Canadian Prairies last year, has had a negative effect on recent crops. And a frigid winter in France, where some of the seed is also grown, didn't help.

"The harvest in France last year was bad, about 50 per cent of the normal harvest," he said.

A supply chain expert at the University of Calgary says we are not out of the woods just yet.

"[These issues] are obviously not resolved. There is a new thing popping up every second," said Serasu Duran, an assistant professor at the university's Haskayne School of Business.

"We still have some time before these issues can be resolved and we are back to a fully functioning supply chain. We can't really blame COVID for these issues, but COVID was a big disruption and supply chains already had some vulnerabilities to disruptions. That snowballed into where we are today."

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In the past, Duran said supply chain management was heavily focused on efficiencies like just-in-time inventory, but that thinking is now evolving.

"Resiliency is as important as efficiency. There should be some budget allocated to having a more resilient supply chain."

Meanwhile, Vandermaesen said this year's Canadian harvest of brown mustard seed is expected to hit Europe by late November or December.

"We will still have a shortage until that time," he said.

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