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FOOD & DRINK

‘Confident for Christmas’ – How France plans to tackle mustard shortages

France's favourite condiment, Dijon mustard, is hard to find these days, with signs on supermarket shelves warning the lucky few who spot jars that they can only take one home.

'Confident for Christmas' - How France plans to tackle mustard shortages
Mustard has been in short supply in France in 2022. Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

A heatwave across the ocean in Canada, the world’s top mustard seed producer, is to blame for the drastic shortage that has dragged on for months in France.

Canada supplies around 80 percent of the mustard seeds used by French makers of the spicy condiment, the rest coming mostly from Burgundy, the region that surrounds Dijon.

But a drought slashed the Canadian harvest by half in 2021.

Now French mustard makers are aiming to boost production at home in Burgundy.

“It’s very important to increase that share so we can face weather risks that differ from one country to the other,” Luc Vandermaesen, president of the Burgundy Mustard Association, an industry group, told AFP.

“We can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” said Vandermaesen, who is also the chief executive of France’s third biggest mustard maker, Reine de Dijon (Queen of Dijon).

The Dijon region has been famous for its mustard seeds since the Middle Ages, but production has been decimated by pests as chemicals used to kill them have been banned.

Output was divided by three between 2017 and 2021, falling from 12,000 tonnes to 4,000 tonnes.

In June, local producers were urged to more than double the area planted with mustard seeds to 10,000 hectares.

“The Canadian problems revived the importance of the Burgundy sector,” said Fabrice Genin, president of the Association of Mustard Seeds Producers of Burgundy.

As an incentive, mustard makers agreed to pay €2,000 per tonne for Burgundy seeds in 2023, up from €1,300 last year and more than double what they paid in 2021.

The appeal appears to have worked, with 10,000 hectares planned for mustard seeds, said Jerome Gervais, a mustard expert at the chamber of agriculture in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or department.

The number of seed producers jumped from 160 to more than 500, he added.

“It’s more than hoped,” Gervais said.

Francois Detain, a farmer in Agencourt, gave up mustard seed production in 2019 after his fields were wrecked by a dry spring and an insect infestation.

But the price offered for mustard seeds allowed him to bring them back, even though Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made fertilisers more expensive.

A drop in the prices of grains and oilseeds has also made mustard seeds more attractive.

“It’s sort of a revenge for us to be able to replant a local crop,” Detain said.

Shipping costs – which have soared due to supply chain bottlenecks since Covid pandemic lockdowns were lifted – have also given an edge to Burgundy seeds over those from Canada.

By next year, Burgundy should be producing 15,000 tonnes of mustard seeds, meeting 40 percent of the needs of mustard makers, Gervais said.

“(Store) shelves should be replenished in October,” Vandermaesen said.

“The shortage will be completely over in early 2023. We are very confident for Christmas.”

Member comments

  1. Now if we could only resolve the mystery of Monoprix and MonoP being COMPLETELY out of aluminum foil in Saint-Etienne… 🙂

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ECONOMY

French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Rising inflation means that France's school lunches are becoming more expensive, but rather than pass on the cost to parents some schools are looking for more budget options - from scrapping the cheese course to going vegetarian and using special offer products to make meals.

French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

France is the land of gastronomy, but even so, French school lunches are often surprising and impressive for foreigners – particularly for those who grew up in countries where the options were a bit less nutritious (ie pizza, chicken nuggets, and sandwiches). 

In France, a typical school lunch consists of a starter, main course and side dish, dessert (often fruit or yoghurt) and cheese. 

The meal must follow strict nutritional guidelines, for instance, schools must “limit the frequency of high-fat and high-sugar meals” and ensure proper, age-appropriate portion sizes” and many schools use organic or locally-sourced produce.

From the start of 2022, the government stipulated that school meals are required to be “50 percent sustainable quality food products,” of which “at least 20 percent of which must be organically produced.”

Since 2019 school canteens must also have at least one meat-free day per week.

READ MORE: Do French kids get the best school lunches in the world?

However, faced with increasing food prices due to inflation, French school canteens are being forced to cut their rising expenses. Many (about half of French municipalities) have responded by increasing lunch prices. Since the start of the 2022-2023 school year, school lunches have risen on average by €0.27.

But not every municipality is raising prices. Some are looking to modify their famously fabulous lunch menus…including dropping the cheese. 

Here is how lunch plates are changing in France:

Dropping a course 

The small town of Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf, located in the Seine-Maritime region, has decided to revise primary school students’ meal plans. Depending on the day, either the starter, cheese or dessert will be removed, with the objective of keeping school lunch prices from increasing for families. 

The town’s mayor, Laurent Bonnaterre, has promised that this decision was taken in consultation with parents.

“Even at home we don’t eat five-course meals!” said Bonnaterre to Franceinfo. Local authorities also assured that the nutritional benefits of the meals will continue to be respected, and that removing one component of the meal will not upset that.

Increasing vegetarian and organic options 

In the Alpes-Maritimes region, some towns, like Mouans-Sartoux, have opted to increase vegetarian options and reduce the amount of meat on the menus, something that several Green party controlled areas were already doing for environmental reasons. 

The deputy mayor told Franceinfo that “these products cost half as much to produce.” The town has increased vegetarian meals from 40 percent to 50 percent.

Bordeaux schools have also sought to increase vegetarian options. The city has also opted for organic bread, because it is cheaper to make, and it has switched from sunflower oil to olive oil. 

READ MORE: Why French school dinners are going vegetarian – at least for one day a week

Special offers

School lunch menus are published in advance, but in Limoges, the commune has decided to use more generic menus, so they can take advantage of last-minute special offers or deals.

“We indicate the main course and for the rest, we are more vague. For example instead of announcing strawberry yogurt, we announce dairy products,” explained Vincent Julby, the first deputy in charge of educational policy to 20 minutes.

“This allows us to take advantage of special offers on certain products, which are cheaper, or local products.”

Limiting food waste

In Le Mans, public officials are proposing a different solution altogether. The municipality is asking parents to give at least eight days of notice if their child will be skipping lunch at the canteen. If they fail to do so, then they will be charged at the maximum rate. The goal is to save costs by limiting food waste.

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