Question asked by Stéphanie, on May 16
For several days, photos showing sunflower oil shelves filled in Spain have abounded on social networks. “I was in Spain yesterday and there is 0 oil shortage”tweets a user; “There is oil everywhere: in Morocco, Switzerland, Spain, etc. Except in France!” details another. “FYI I am currently in Spain and sunflower oil is flowing, no shortage in sight. Poor France», regret one last. These are all messages that compare the vegetable oil shelves of Spanish stores to those of French territory, where stock-outs in supermarkets have affected consumers in recent months.
The French national and regional press covered the subject extensively. The voice of the North observed bare stalls from the beginning of April, Lidl also called on its customers to be “reasonable» and not to make stock in the columns of the Parisian. The bottles of yellow gold have become impossible to find in Reunion, underlined the correspondent of Release on the island. The Metro brand also limited wholesale sales very early on to 50 liters per customer per day, restrictions from which restaurateurs still suffer as shown West France, in Nantes at the beginning of May.
As we explained in a previous article, we cannot speak of a “shortage” of sunflower oil in France, but only of a “rupture”. “The current shelf shortage is linked to massive purchases. The oil market is usually a stable market and we cannot double our production capacity in three weeks. Adapting our production takes timewarned the Avril group (Lesieur, Puget), the largest French distributor questioned by CheckNews. However, we have enough stocks to continue our deliveries until the next harvests in October.” But what about Spain? Contrary to what some Internet users suggest, the country has experienced the same situation as in France.
Increase in sales in Spain
In March, several Spanish media were already reporting the increase in vegetable oil sales. Le 9, the national daily The world compared the scenes of massive purchases of sunflower oil to the rushes on necessities, such as toilet paper, when the confinement was announced in Spain, in March 2020. A few days earlier, on the 5th, it is the media ABC, which explained that certain retail chains were going “limit the sale of sunflower oil”, due to “atypical consumer behavior”. El País also alerted, on March 12, to the “disappearance of bottles of sunflower oil in supermarkets” and the consequences of declining stocks on the agri-food industry.
With Ukraine being the world’s largest exporter of sunflowers, Russia’s invasion of the country had many consequences for global supply. “With the conflict beginning in late February, Ukrainian sunflower oil shipments – which account for almost 50% of global exports – have come to a virtual standstill due to conflict-induced logistical bottlenecks at port facilities and no have been able to resume recently only at a minimal level by truck or train via neighboring countries”indicates the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to CheckNews.
In France, this resulted in an increase in consumption from February with +5% sales of sunflower oil in volume (litres) compared to the year 2021, before exploding in March, with +64, 8%, according to data provided to CheckNews by the IRI (Information resources, Inc.) which carries out studies on household consumption.
In Spain too, distribution figures have jumped. The product availability rate fell by 20 points between the end of February and the end of March, according to analyst NielsenIQ. “Oil availability issues were felt across the continent: from the North in Denmark, where availability fell 12 percentage points, to the South in Spain, where availability issues were exacerbated by transport strikes, which led to a staggering 20 point drop in shelf availability, and an impact on average missed sales per week multiplied by 15”specifies the group, contacted by CheckNews.
Back on the shelves
“In the first days of March, some food distribution companies in Spain adopted, on an ad hoc basis, measures to limit the sale of sunflower oil due to the atypical behavior of consumers observed at that time”, sums up the Spanish Association of Distributors, Self-Service Stores and Supermarkets (Asedas). The situation has now returned “normal” on the shelves, says Asedas today with CheckNews. This explains the currently full shelves of Spanish supermarkets.
Great Britain, Belgium and Germany face the same supply difficulties, noted in particular through the various national press titles. In a press release published on May 4, the European association of vegetable oil manufacturers (Fediol) noted about the European market: “While the situation in the sunflower oil market was rather tense at the beginning of the war launched by Russia in Ukraine, triggering panic buying throughout the chain up to the end consumer, the situation has improved over the the past few weeks.” “According to our member companies, vegetable oil is available and in stock in the form of bottles but also for commercial activities”, says today the union to CheckNews.
India particularly concerned
Outside Europe, the sunflower oil market is also tight. Asked by CheckNews, the FAO recalls that the main importers of vegetable oil, such as India, the European Union, China or Iran, among others, “have had to turn to other suppliers of sunflower oil or other vegetable oils”, since the beginning of the conflict.
She specifically cites India, “world’s largest importer of vegetable oil”which is particularly affected by disruptions in the supply of sunflower oil. “Domestic vegetable oil prices in India have continued to rise in the face of dwindling supply”, specifies the organization. If stocks gradually return to normal, it is indeed prices that soar. “International sunflower oil prices rose significantly to record highs in March 2022, while palm, soybean and rapeseed oil quotations also increased significantly following the disruptions in the supply of sunflower oil»stresses the FAO.
However, it points out that the recovery of palm oil production in Southeast Asia should increase in the coming months, allowing a slight substitution for sunflower. The United Nations specifies that the situation in Ukraine remains “unstable”, in particular due to “damage to infrastructure”, “a full recovery of sunflower oil exports is not expected in the short term”.