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Will Germany see a mustard shortage?

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is resulting in supply issues for some everyday food items. With recent reports saying a mustard shortage looms in Germany, we looked into what you should know.

A woman puts mustard on her Bratwurst in Coburg, Bavaria.
A woman puts mustard on her Bratwurst in Coburg, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

Seeing footage and hearing from Ukrainians about the brutal Russian invasion has sparked collective shock and anger around the world.

And the war led by President Vladimir Putin is also having an indirect effect on everyday life for people outside Ukraine. It has, for instance, exasperated rising energy costs and consumer prices. 

Experts have also been warning about supply issues for items such as sunflower oil and flour of which Ukraine and Russia are important suppliers. 

But the worries over shortages have led some people in Germany to panic-buy and clear out shelves in supermarkets. 

Supermarkets have noticed an increased demand for things like cooking oils, and have introduced measures such as temporarily restricting sales to one or two bottles per customer.

Last week, The Federal Association of the German Food Trade (BVLH), urged people not to hoard and called for “solidarity”.

Now talk is turning to a possible mustard shortage. Is this really possible?

READ ALSO: ‘Show solidarity’: Germans urged not to panic-buy over shortage fears

Why would there be a mustard problem?

Mustard producers are worried about supply shortages of imported seeds. 

According to DPA, the shortage means that mustard could become significantly more expensive. But most industry experts say it’s too early to tell whether the condiment, which is a particular favourite of Germans, will become scarce.

READ ALSO: How prices in Germany will rise as the war in Ukraine continues

According to the food association Kulinaria, one of the most important suppliers of mustard seeds is Ukraine. If supplies fail to arrive as a result of the war during the year, mustard producers could face difficulties in the second half of the year and in 2023.

“It is not yet possible to precisely estimate the extent of the shortage,” said Kulinaria Managing Director Markus Weck.

The sowing of seeds for mustard normally takes place in the next two weeks, he said. But because of the war, the focus there is understandably on growing essential crops and not on growing food for export.

But even before the Russian military assault on Ukraine began, there were problems on the market for mustard seeds. Germany also buys seeds from Canada, but there have issues there with droughts there which last year resulted in about half the usual harvest.

However, there are still stocks stored up by many producers, said the association, which represents 130 medium-sized companies in the food industry.

“From the association’s point of view, the market for mustard in 2023 will be rather difficult, as we are currently unable to estimate how much mustard seed will be available,” Weck said.

READ ALSO: Consumer prices in Germany expected to rise further

He said individual traders may struggle as a result of the shortage. 

How important is mustard in Germany?

It is pretty popular – especially on a traditional Bratwurst. 

Germany imported a total of 38,320 tonnes of mustard seeds in 2020, of which 51.9 percent came from Russia, 27.6 percent from Ukraine and 10.2 percent from Canada. Four percent of the mustard seeds came from Estonia and 6.4 percent from other countries. Almost 81,000 tonnes of mustard worth around €167 million were produced in this country.

However, mustard consumption in this country has been declining. According to Kulinaria, mustard consumption per capita in Germany was around 1.18 kilograms in 2010. In 2020, it had fallen to 805 grams of mustard per capita consumption.

According to available data, about 20 companies with 20 or more employees produce mustard in Germany – around 80,769 tonnes in 2020, almost 9 percent less than the year before. Mustard accounted for almost 11 percent of the total sauces market, with tomato ketchup and mayonnaise each accounting for more than 30 percent of production volume.

A Bratwurst coated in mustard.

A Bratwurst coated in mustard. Photo:
picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

Price hikes

As is the trend across many groceries in Germany (and beyond), experts predict severe price increases.

The Bavarian manufacturer Develey, which owns the brands Löwensenf, Bautz’ner and Reine de Dijon, among others, sources its mustard seed from Ukraine, Canada and Germany.

“Due to the bad harvest in Canada in 2021, the world market for mustard seed was already very tight,” the company said. However, there is currently no standstill in production of the condiment.

According to a spokeswoman, Nestlé’s subsidiary Thomy sources mustard seeds exclusively from Canada. As well as the poor harvest, there are considerable problems transporting the goods from there to Europe. “Price increases are currently to be expected across almost all categories, including mustard,” she said.

Fans of a sausage with mustard will likely not have to do without the condiment in future, but they will probably have to pay more for it.

“We will not run out of mustard,” said association manager Weck.

But Luise Händlmaier GmbH says it is already informing trading partners that mustard could become twice as expensive as before.

It’s mainly down to the cost explosion for raw materials, said managing director Franz Wunderlich. “And that will certainly only be the beginning.”

The current commodity crisis will continue to affect prices and scarce commodity availability for the next two years due to lower crop yields, he said.

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CRIME

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

Borys Shyfrin fled as a young child, along with other members of his Jewish family, from the Nazis.

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

More than eight decades on, the Ukrainian Holocaust survivor has been forced from his home once more – but this time he’s found a safe haven in Germany.

Shyfrin is among a number of Ukrainian Jews who lived through the Nazi terror and have now fled to the country from which Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich launched its drive try to wipe Jews out.

He never wanted to leave Mariupol, where he had lived for decades. But Russia’s brutal assault on the Ukrainian port city made it impossible to stay.

“There was no gas, no electricity, no water whatsoever,” the 81-year-old told AFP from a care home in Frankfurt, recalling the relentless bombardment by Moscow’s forces.

“We were waiting for the authorities to come… We waited for a day, two days a week.”

Bodies of people killed by bombs and gunfire littered the streets, recalled Shyfrin, a widower who had lost contact with his only son.

“There were so many of them… no one picked them up. People got used to it – no one paid attention.”

People scraped by finding what food they could, with water supplied by a fire engine that made regular visits to his neighbourhood.

Shyfrin’s apartment was damaged during the fighting in Mariupol – defended so fiercely that it became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – and he spent much time sheltering in the cellar of his building.

Became homeless

The elderly man eventually left Mariupol with the aid of a rabbi, who helped the local Jewish population get out of the city.

He was evacuated to Crimea, and from there, travelled on a lengthy overland journey through Russia and Belarus, eventually arriving in Warsaw, Poland.

After some weeks in Poland, a place in a care home was found in Frankfurt.

In July, he was transported to Germany in an ambulance, with the help of the Claims Conference, a Jewish organisation that has been aiding the evacuation of Ukrainian Holocaust survivors.

Shyfrin, who walks with the aid of a stick, is still processing the whirlwind of events that carried him unexpectedly to Germany.

The outbreak of war was a “very big surprise”, he said.

“I used to love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin very much,” said Shyfrin, who is a native Russian speaker, did military service in the Soviet Union, and went on to work as a radio engineer with the military.

“Now I do not know whether Putin is right to be at war with Ukraine or not – but somehow, because of this war, I have become homeless.”

Shyfrin was born in 1941, in Gomel, Belarus.

When he was just three months old, his family fled to Tajikistan to escape German Nazi forces who were occupying the region.

Many of Belarus’s Jews died during the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed a total of six million European Jews.

In neighbouring Ukraine, the once-large Jewish community was also almost completely wiped out.

After the war, his family returned to Belarus and Shyfrin completed his studies, did military service, and settled in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1970s.

“Traumatised”

The pensioner seemed philosophical about the twist of fate that has forced him to leave his home.

“Well, it’s not up to me,” he said, when asked about having to flee war for the second time in his life.

His most immediate concerns are more practical – such as how to access his money back home.

“I can’t even receive my honestly earned military pension,” he said.

He recently moved to a new care home run by the Jewish community, where there are more Russian speakers.

As well as helping Shyfrin on the final leg of his journey, the Claims Conference provided him with financial assistance.

It has evacuated over 90 Ukrainian Holocaust survivors to Germany since the outbreak of the conflict, a break from the organisation’s usual work of ensuring that survivors get compensation and ongoing support.

The body had long been helping to run care programmes for Holocaust victims in Ukraine.

But, as the conflict intensified, it became clear such care programmes could no longer be sustained, particularly in the east, said Ruediger Mahlo, the Conference’s representative in Germany.

“Because many of the survivors needed a lot of care and could not survive without this help, it was clear we had to try to do everything to evacuate (them),” he told AFP.

Getting them out involved huge logistical challenges, from finding ambulances in Ukraine to locating suitable care homes.

For many of the frail Holocaust survivors, it can be a struggle to grasp the fact that they have found refuge in Germany, said Mahlo.

They are fleeing to a country that “had in the past persecuted them, and done everything to kill them,” he said.

“Certainly, they are traumatised,” he said.

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