In 1981, Colman's aired an amusing television advert where a group of well-to-do, upper-class English holiday makers are settling down for a boozy picnic on the French coastline. An old chap named Jarvis, whom we can assume is their butler, informs the group that "there has been a slight hitch". Something far "worse" than allowing the champagne to warm up, Jarvis regretfully explains, he had forgotten to "pack the mustard". The rest of the group, clearly disappointed with Jarvis, send him swimming back across the channel to retrieve the Colman's. You can watch the full advertisement by clicking here.
The advert humorously demonstrated the importance of having mustard close at hand, so much so that poor old Jarvis started to trundle out into the sea without a second-thought after the group displayed their disappointment. However, revisiting the advert today makes for very topical viewing. France is in the midst of a mustard crisis. There is, to quote the ad, "no moutarde", and the reasons behind the shortage make for harrowing insight.
How did France become void of its favourite condiment?
Despite being known globally for Dijon Mustard - the sharp condiment essential to French cooking - the majority of mustard seed cultivation takes place some 7,000 kilometers away in Western Canada. A heatwave and subsequent drought that took place last year in Alberta and Saskatchewan slashed seed production by 50%. The drought, alongside a series of abnormally wet and cold winters in the domestic growing region of Burgundy, has seen France's supply of Dijon mustard significantly drop, resulting in a 10% price increase and, in some shops, a limit of 1 jar per customer.
These weather patterns may be described as 'abnormal', but they are starting to become more and more frequent with each passing year. 'Unpredictable weather patterns' is perhaps a more suitable description, and it is this unpredictability that is causing so much concern for farmers.
You do not have to look far for comparisons. In 2022, Britain has experienced its driest start to the year for 46 years. As Guy from Riverford rightly points out, agricultural practice is "built on" predictable weather patterns. Remove regularity and you can be in serious danger, as farmers across the UK have experienced this summer.
According to The New York Times, heatwaves such as the ones seen in North America and the UK are virtually "impossible" without climate change. Temperatures have been rising since the start of the industrial era and will continue to do so unless significant changes are made by governments around the world.
The absence of mustard from French supermarkets may seem like a trivial loss; an inconvenience to one marking steak frites or mayonnaise. But its significance is far greater than that. With weather patterns becoming increasingly difficult to predict and more extreme in their nature, we can expect to see incidents such as the mustard shortage in the years to come.
The invasion of Ukraine and the global food crisis
There are further reasons behind France's mustard crisis. France had initially planned to import mustard seeds from Russia and Ukraine in anticipation of a reduced harvest. However, since the invasion this has not been possible. In fact, in May this year, the United Nations predicted that the invasion may create a "global food crisis" that could last for years.
Back in Britain, we have seen a dramatic drop off in the supply of sunflower oil which most commonly comes from Ukraine. Supermarkets - such as Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons - have implemented a cap on the amount of cooking oil an individual is allowed to buy, as consumers seek out alternatives to sunflower oil.
Surveying the demand: what does the shortage mean for our mustard?
Our very own Kai & Sky saw France's mustard shortage first hand as they visited Île d'Oléron - an island off the west coast of France - for a family holiday earlier this summer. "There was mustard in the supermarkets," Kai explains, "however, it certainly wasn't French - you would see shoppers wearily reach for a jar of what I believe was German mustard."
According to Bloomberg, the crisis accelerated due to customers stockpiling the stuff much like we experienced in our supermarkets at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. As mentioned, this resulted in many stores limiting customers to 1 jar of Dijon per person.
Back in our own factory, we have experienced some of the ripple effects from the crisis in France. Just last week, a customer knocked on our door frantically asking if we had any mustard. "I'm off to France tomorrow and they don't have any mustard," she explained as Jack from operations fetched her a jar of our English Mustard. "On second thoughts, can you grab me two more?"
While we are of course more than happy to sell our mustard, particularly as we have just updated our formula (more on that later), it does raise concerns as to whether this issue will affect us.
The truth is, we don't really know. Mustard consumption in Britain is lower than it is in France. Further, we have a greater degree of infrastructure in place for domestic cultivation: the primary source of English mustard-seed agriculture takes place in East-Anglia, the home of Colman's.
However, as we are all presently aware, the weather on our shores is no different to anywhere else. Unpredictable, extreme, and challenging. The question over whether we will experience a mustard shortage extends further. Being a company so reliant on the predictability of the agricultural year and its seasons, extreme weather events feel like a foreboding sign of things to come.
Our new mustard formula
Just like Dijon, we believe English Mustard deserves a place in every kitchen. Its hot, distinctive flavour profile makes it versatile for cooking.
We've been fining tuning our English Mustard for a while. When we first began developing the recipe, we wanted to maximise the heat, so predominantly used oriental mustard seeds (very popular in Japanese cuisine). While we certainly succeeded in making the mustard hot, it lacked nuance and flavour.
We tried again.
This time, we created a blend with yellow mustard powder. Undoubtedly delicious and far more nuanced than what we tried before. However, it lost heat with time.
Back to the drawing board.
What was it that drove us to make English Mustard in the first place? Creating a condiment that packs a punch yet sings with flavour. It became clear that we needed to reintroduce the oriental mustard flour, yet ensure there was balance.
After several attempts, we finally nailed it.
Our new mustard formula is a delight. It is fiery, tangy and guaranteed to heighten any meal. Whether you're mixing it through sauces or dolloping next to cold meats, it's a winner.
The picture below shows Kai trying a teaspoon direct from the jar. It's certainly hot, but it's undoubtedly delicious.
A final note
It sometimes feels hard to welcome the rain in the summer. In Britain, we spend so much of our time complaining about it, especially if it becomes a reoccurring feature of our summers. However, this year we have needed it. Sure it's been nice to spend our days sunbathing on beaches and picnicking in parks. But just looking around London - our green spaces totally scorched - makes you presently aware of our changing climate.
Let's hope this summer acts as a wake up call.