Canadian Manufacturing

Mustard seed shortage slows some supply of condiments and raises prices on commodity

The Canadian Press
   

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The problem can be traced back to the Canadian Prairies, where the majority of the world's mustard seeds are grown.

A mustard seed shortage is driving up prices and could leave some store shelves with scant supply before the new harvest hits markets this fall, industry experts say.

France, the world’s biggest consumer of the popular condiment, is already facing shortages while other countries are seeing prices climb as last year’s mustard seed stocks are depleted.

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

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

In Saskatchewan, for example, about 300,000 acres or roughly 120,000 hectares were seeded with mustard last year, a drop of about 25 per cent compared with the 10-year average of 400,000 acres (about 160,000 hectares), according to provincial data.

Then dry, hot weather badly damaged crops.

“The heat that we got last July just absolutely devastated yields,” said Stuart Smyth, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics with the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“Mustard seed yield was only 35 per cent of the 10-year average.”

Prices for the yellow spread have steadily increased since.

For example, a hundredweight of yellow mustard seeds, roughly 45 kilograms, cost more than $150 a week ago — triple the $50 price tag from a year ago, according to a Saskatchewan database of agricultural commodity prices.

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

Yet for mustard makers, the high prices are only half the battle.

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

“I bought mustard seeds in the spring of this year from last year’s harvest and I had to almost beg my supplier to sell it to me,” said Eric Giesbrecht, a chef and owner of Brassica Mustard.

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

The Calgary-based business owner ended up paying about 400 per cent more than usual — an astronomical cost increase he’s mostly had to absorb.

Kraft Heinz Co., which makes Heinz Yellow Mustard and the Dijon mustard brand Grey Poupon, said the shortage has only impacted the brown mustard seeds it uses in its Dijon variety.

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

Michelle Wasylyshen, spokeswoman for the retail industry group, said Canadians should have no concerns about food availability though “there may be times when consumers will have to look for alternatives and substitutions.”

“In Canada, last year’s harvest for mustard was heavily impacted by drought and this affected production,” she said.

“We don’t manufacture a lot of mustard domestically, but rather provide the seed to other countries which then produce the actual condiment.”

Indeed, the shortage has underscored how little of the mustard seed crop grown in Canada stays here to be processed into a condiment.

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