Montreal

Shortage of mustard seeds causing Quebec condiment producers to scramble

Quebec mustard producers are dealing with growing demand for the popular condiment and a shortage of the seeds required to make it.

Prepare to pay more for the classic hot dog garnish

A global shortage in mustard seeds means the condiment could get more scarce this summer. (iStock/Getty Images)

When Simon-Pierre Murdock learned from his suppliers that there might be a shortage of mustard seeds this year, he bought as many of them as he could — more than 20 tonnes worth.

Murdock is the president and founder of Canada Sauce, a company from Saguenay, Que., that makes condiments, including the yellow mustard that is often put on hot dogs.

"It was the good guess," he said. "We have to make this kind of move [to succeed]."

As a small startup trying to break into the Canadian market, Murdock said his company couldn't afford to run out of seeds.

"If we don't have the supply chain, we are not able to make our goal," he said.

Quebec mustard producers are observing an increased demand for the condiment, but the seeds required to make it are running low.

"Last year's mustard seed harvest was very bad," explained Julien Morin, owner and founder of La Morin, a Montreal-based company that makes mustard products.

Canada produces three types of mustard seeds: yellow, brown and oriental. The seeds are typically harvested in early fall. (Cory Herperger/CBC)

Canada is the world's largest producer of mustard seed, most of it farmed in the southern prairie regions of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

But the drought and heat wave that hit those regions last summer led to a significant reduction in crop yields. To make things worse, there was less mustard planted last year than usual to begin with.

"It was kind of the perfect storm really for mustard last year," said Rick Mitzel, the executive director of SaskMustard, the Saskatchewan mustard development commission.

As a result only about 60,700 hectares of mustard seeds were harvested, compared to some 202,345 hectares in previous years.

The war in Ukraine has compounded the shortage, because Russia and Ukraine are both big mustard seed producers, according to Mitzel.

A scarce resource

Morin said big producers quickly started buying up large quantities of seeds when rumours of a shortage began to circulate last fall.

Morin said he was able to stock up on seeds in advance, but he still needs to carefully manage which contracts he accepts so his supplies last until the next harvest.

Elisabeth Bélanger, left, seen with her sister and business partner Elaine. (Submitted by Elisabeth Bélanger)

Elisabeth Bélanger, the president and co-owner of Maison Orphée, a company in Quebec City that makes a variety of condiments, including mustard, is in the same boat.

"It's been hard to find the things that we need," she said, adding organic seeds and the type of seed used for Dijon mustard are especially difficult to come by.

Bélanger also bought more seeds than she needed last fall, but her reserves won't last past this year.

"Right now, what's happening is that even if you look for some [seeds], I mean prices are high, but there's nothing to offer," she said.

Elisabeth Bélanger's company makes both gourmet mustard and bulk mustard for food manufacturers. (Submitted by Elisabeth Bélanger)

"It's an added stress on top of the fact that, you know, it's hard to find all of the personnel we need and it's hard to get all of the [supplies]."

As a result, the cost of seeds has been rising steadily since the fall.

A bag of seeds that would have sold for about $40 five to six months ago now costs about $240, according to Ariane Paré-Le Gal, co-owner of Gourmet Sauvage, another Quebec company that makes artisanal mustard.

Her company initially decided to postpone buying seeds. "The prices just didn't make sense," she said.

The prices didn't go down as Paré-Le Gal had hoped, but she said her company has been able to stay afloat because they sell a variety of products.

It's not just Quebec producers who are facing difficulties.

In Alberta, Luco Farms co-owner Robert Luco said the higher price of mustard seed has affected his bottom line.

His usual supplier closed down, so he's having to have the spice shipped from elsewhere in the province, at a higher cost.

Opportunities among the challenges

Despite the difficulties, Quebec producers are also finding new opportunities.

The global seed shortage means many foreign producers are no longer able to make mustard, so grocery stores and distributors from around the world are turning to Canada.

"We've received a lot of requests, even from European distributors. We also had requests from Martinique, from Guadeloupe," said Morin. "It's a peculiar situation."

La Morin founder Julien Morin said he's been contacted by retailers all over the world who want to buy his mustards. (Submitted by Julien Morin)

Bélanger has also noticed an increase in demand for bulk mustard from retailers and food manufacturers. "They've been calling us more," she said.

Mitzel predicts the shortage and the higher seed prices will be an incentive for Canadian farmers to grow more mustard this year.

"The contracting for next year's crop is coming in significantly higher than it was like last year at this time," he said.

While farmers might have been able to sell the seeds for about 70 to 80 cents per kilogram, this year the price for a kilogram is anywhere from about $2 to $2.20, he said.

"Definitely it's a crop worth keeping," he said. "We've got a lot of different industries that are spawned off of this."

Uncertain future

Morin hopes the crops will yield better results this year, but producers won't know that until mid-July. Mustard seeds are usually harvested in September and October.

"It's going to depend on if there are floods, if there are droughts," he said.

Luco is also on his guard. He said some of his friends in Saskatchewan are already reporting dry weather conditions.

"The outlook for a good crop this year is probably not very good unless the weather turns around here and starts giving us some rain."

One thing that does seem certain is that customers can expect to pay more for their mustard in the coming months, and may even have a hard time finding their favourite brand on their local store shelves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Émilie Warren

Regional reporter

Émilie Warren covers regional stories across the province of Quebec for CBC news in Quebec City. She has also worked as an intern reporter for the CBC in Vancouver and the Health Unit, and as an intern producer for World Report. You can reach her at emilie.warren@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now