EU refineries source as much as 45 percent of their sunflower oil from Ukraine, and this supply is now in serious jeopardy. The vegetable oil industry group FEDIOL warned that the available stocks in the European Union will only cover the next four to six weeks.
In a statement, they wrote: “Beyond that period, it is likely that lack of availability of crude sunflower seed oil and limited alternatives will lead to a shortfall of refined/bottled sunflower seed oil on the European market ...this will be felt up to the consumer level.”
In many European countries, sunflower oil is used in much the same way that Americans use vegetable oil, such as for baking, cooking and frying. Ukraine and Russia combined account for roughly 80 percent of global exports of sunflower oil, and with both countries currently at war, importers are scrambling to find alternatives.
Ukraine normally ships around 200,000 tons of sunflower oil to the EU each month. European producers are now trying to reduce the impact of the war by taking some of the sunflower oil that was earmarked for biodiesel fuel and shifting it to the food markets to keep up with demand. Other products that are less popular on the continent, such as soybean oil, rapeseed oil and tropical oils, are also starting to get attention as people seek alternatives.
A week ago, Spanish supermarkets started rationing sales of sunflower oil in hopes of discouraging customers from stockpiling the ingredient. Spain's largest supermarket chain, Mercadona, began limiting purchases to 5 liters of sunflower oil per customer, while the higher-end supermarket El Corte Ingles limited purchases to three one-liter bottles or one five-liter bottle per day per customer in response to the high demand and low supply. Despite high domestic olive oil production, Spanish families regularly use the cheaper sunflower oil for deep-frying foods and baking desserts.
Even with these limits in place, many shoppers are already being greeted by bare shelves when they head toward the sunflower oil section of Spanish supermarkets, and the shortage is also putting a strain on olive oil supplies.
Shoppers have also been warned to expect shortages of foods that are commonly packaged in sunflower oil, such as canned tuna, as well as snacks like potato chips that are fried in sunflower oil. Packaging and food safety regulations make it difficult for companies to simply switch to a different type of oil in manufacturing their products, so it is likely that these foods will simply become unavailable as supplies of sunflower oil dwindle. Moreover, while some companies may be able to secure sunflower oil from other countries, the costs are rising quickly, and this rise is expected to be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Just a few days into the conflict, the price of sunflower oil FOB Black Sea Ukraine climbed from $470.50 to $1,950.50 per metric ton before settling around $1480 per metric ton.
Roughly 300,000 tons of Ukrainian sunflower oil had been scheduled to ship in late February and March, but the crisis has forced the oil’s destination markets to seek edible oils from other sources.
This situation is only likely to get worse as sunflower seeds are normally sown in April and May in Ukraine for harvesting in September, which means the next growing cycle is at serious risk. In addition, the shutdown of import-export facilities and blocked trading routes are expected to have a major impact on both the availability and cost of sunflower oil throughout the world.
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