Condiments are getting more competitive. Does yellow mustard still cut the mustard?

Condiments are getting more competitive. Does yellow mustard still cut the mustard?

Did Subway discontinue yellow mustard in Canada?

That’s the chatter online, as franchise owners on Redditcustomers on X and Facebook, and a notice sent out to parents of a school lunch program all allege the sandwich chain has stopped offering a beloved Canadian condiment.

On Thursday, some parents of children at a school in Kingston, Ont., received an email notice. 

“Subway will not be able to provide the ‘yellow mustard’ sauce option moving forward,” reads the note, sent out through Lunchbox, an app for ordering school lunches online, and obtained by CBC News.

“On behalf of Subway we are very sorry for this inconvenience and hope that we will have yellow mustard to offer in the new school year.”

The impacted Subway locations requested that Lunchbox contact parents and guardians, Marianne Kupina, marketing vice-president of KEV Group, which runs Lunchbox, told CBC News.

“I can confirm that some Subway locations in Ontario have advised us that there is a mustard shortage with their specific supplier,” she added in an emailed statement.

CBC News has reached out to Subway Global and North America for comment, which has yet to respond.

Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said he thinks the company may be streamlining its menu as part of optimizing its operations.

The demand for plain yellow mustard is down amid an increasingly competitive sauce landscape, Charlebois said. 

“Think about it, 20 years ago it was just ketchup, mustard, relish and mayonnaise, basically. But since then you have … all sorts of sauces that have gotten some traction in recent years that make the classics kind of a lingering addition to the portfolio.”

An email that reads: Good morning. It has been brought to our attention that there is currently a  shortage of yellow mustard at many Subways across  the province. As such, Subway will not be able to provide the yellow mustard option moving forward.
A notice sent to parents who subscribe to Lunchbox, a school lunch ordering app, in Kingston, Ont., on Feb. 22, 2024, informs them ‘yellow mustard’ is no longer available on Subway orders. (Natalie Stechyson/CBC)

A Fortune Business Insights report published last month says the condiment market has been experiencing significant growth, but is also shifting to meet new consumer demands, such as products tailored to the popularity of Asian cuisine in Western countries.

And a Canadian Grocer article last year said Canadian sauce consumption increased five per cent in 2022, but the growth mostly came from marinades and hot sauces.

“I like to think of the sauce and condiment aisle as a sort of reflection of Canadian society,” Kathy Perrotta, vice-president of marketing strategy and understanding at research firm Ipsos Canada, told that publication. “The way we were — ketchup, mustard, relish — [is markedly different] to the way the population looks today.” 

‘Mustard is a key sandwich ingredient!’

Subway Canada has over 2,900 Subway restaurants, all independently owned and operated by its franchisees.

The company has discontinued items and changed its menu many times in the past — in 2023, it added new sandwiches and ingredients such as beef brisket, for instance. In 2022, almost 900 people signed a petition on to bring back the chain’s original sweet onion sauce, which was replaced with sweet onion teriyaki. (Multiple videos on TikTok still lament the change.)

But the apparent discontinuation of mustard has some social media users upset, with many saying they could not order yellow mustard.

“Why would Subway discontinue yellow mustard?!?? Mustard is a key sandwich ingredient! I haven’t changed my Subway order in over 20 years! Why now?” one person wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, earlier this week.

“In Canada they are going to discontinue the yellow mustard. In my store it is very popular and I think that there will be a lot of customers unhappy about that,” wrote a Canadian Reddit user who identified themselves as a Subway franchise owner.

“Bring back the mustard or suffer the consequences of losing major business,” a user posted on Subway Canada’s Facebook page a week ago.

Four submarine sandwiches
Menu items from international sandwich chain Subway are pictured. Rumours are swirling on social media that yellow mustard is no longer available in Subway Canada restaurants. (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images/Subway)

A message purportedly sent out to Canadian Subway franchise owners, posted several weeks ago on Reddit, says the decision was made because yellow mustard has seen “declining demand in Canada” and has become a “slow-moving” product.

CBC News has not been able to independently verify the message, but has reached out to the franchisee who posted it, as well as several other franchise owners in Canada, who either didn’t respond or declined an interview request. 

Subway Canada’s website and app still list yellow mustard as an option on its menu when ordering sandwiches online, although its terms and conditions state that all products listed on its sites are subject to availability and restaurant participation.

Canadian mustard industry still strong

Canada was the world’s top exporter of mustard seeds in 2021, according to Statistics Canada, but “growing conditions that year contributed to lower production and a global shortage.”

According to data released earlier this month, Canada’s mustard seed production plummeted in 2021 to 60,532 metric tonnes, the lowest yield since 1979, but climbed back upwards in 2022. Last year, the yield was 170,710 metric tonnes.

Global demand for Canadian mustard seed “remains strong,” with exports holding steady over the past five years and the number of acres dedicated to growing the crop trending upward, said Jeff English, vice-president of marketing and communications at Pulse Canada, a lobby group for Canadian pulse crops.

Most of the country’s mustard seed is grown in Saskatchewan, StatCan notes.

Rick Mitzel, executive director of the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission and CEO of Mustard 21 Canada, said he isn’t seeing an industry-wide decline in demand for yellow mustard. And the mustard industry in Saskatchewan is strong right now, he added, with growers expected to plant 500,000 acres of the crop this year — although farmers are concerned the large supply will drive down prices amid falling exports, according to The Western Producer, a Saskatoon-based publication. 

If Subway is indeed discontinuing yellow mustard, Mitzel suspects it may be partly because of its recent menu changes, which include the additions of less mustard-friendly rice bowls and salads.

But he understands why people are alarmed about the rumours.

“It’s a pretty important part of the economic landscape,” he said.

Mustard is very Canadian, Charlebois said, and added that a major brand discontinuing it has the potential to bring up  some supply chain politics, like when Loblaws briefly stopped selling French’s ketchup, which is made from Ontario tomatoes.

“There’s a love affair between Canadians and mustard.”

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