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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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ENERGY

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

Gas prices have more than tripled in the past year, prompting tenants' rights advocates to call for more social support and a cap on energy costs.

Should tenants in Germany be shielded from energy price hikes?

The German’s Tenants’ Association is calling on the government to put together a new energy relief package to help renters deal with spiralling energy costs.

Gas has become an increasing scarce resource in Germany, with the Economics Ministry raising the alert level recently after Russia docked supplies by 60 percent.

The continued supply issues have caused prices to skyrocket. According to the German import prices published on Thursday, natural gas was three times as expensive in May 2022 as it was in May a year ago.

In light of the exploding prices, the German Tenants’ Association is putting the government under pressure to offer greater relief for renters.

READ ALSO: 

Proposals on the table include a moratorium on terminating tenancy agreements and a permanent heating cost subsidy for all low-income households.

The Tenants’ Association has argued that nobody should face eviction for being unable to cope with soaring bills and is urging the government to adjust housing benefits in line with the higher prices. 

Gas price cap

Renters’ advocates have also joined a chorus of people advocating for a cap on consumer gas prices to prevent costs from rising indefinitely.

Recently, Frank Bsirske, a member of the parliamentary Green Party and former head of the trade union Verdi, spoke out in favour of capping prices. Bavaria’s economics minister and Lower Saxony’s energy minister have also advocated for a gas price cap in the past. 

According to the tenants’ association, the vast majority of tenants use gas for heating and are directly affected by recent price increases.

At the G7 summit in Bavaria this week, leaders of the developed nations discussed plans for a coordinated cut in oil prices to prevent Russia from reaping the rewards of the energy crisis. 

In an initiative spearheaded by the US, the group of rich nations agreed to task ministers will developing a proposal that would see consumer countries refusing to pay more than a set price for oil imports from Russia.

READ ALSO: Germany and G7 to ‘develop a price cap’ on Russian oil

A gas price cap would likely be carried out on a more national level, with the government regulating how much of their costs energy companies can pass onto consumers. 

Strict contract laws preventing sudden price hikes mean that tenants in Germany are unlikely to feel the full force of the rising gas prices this year

However, the Tenant’s Association pointed out that, if there is a significant reduction in gas imports, the Federal Network Agency could activate an emergency clause known as the price adjustment clause.

This would allow gas suppliers to pass on higher prices to their customers at short notice. 

The Tenants’ Association has warned that the consequences of an immediate market price adjustment, if it happens, should be legally regulated and socially cushioned.

In the case of the price adjustment clause being activated, the government would have to regulate the costs that companies were allowed to pass onto consumers to prevent social upheaval. 

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