Why has Russia-Ukraine war caused a cooking oil shortage?

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Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose and Island are “temporarily” rationing supplies, while other major UK stores have also reported shortages

Cooking oil shortages have hit most UK supermarkets in recent weeks (Image: PA)

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Several major UK supermarkets have been forced to limit the amount of cooking oil shoppers can buy.

Supplies of olive oil, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil – all of which are also key ingredients in many grocery products – are now being rationed at retailers including: Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose.

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Iceland boss Richard Walker said the shortages had not resulted in the “frenzied” panic buying seen at the start of the Covid pandemic.

Russia and Ukraine provide much of the world’s sunflower oil supply (Image: Getty Images)

So why are these cooking oils becoming scarce – and what limits are being placed on consumers?

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Here’s what you need to know.

Why is there a cooking oil shortage?

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In contrast to the recent product shortages – where the problems were mainly caused by supply chain disruptions due to panic buying, Covid or Brexit – cooking oils are becoming scarce due to the Russia-Ukraine war.

In fact, Russia and Ukraine account for 60% to 78% of the world sunflower oil supply.

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Most of the British sunflower oil comes from Ukraine.

Most UK supermarkets have been hit by cooking oil shortages since early April (Image: PA)

When it comes to rapeseed oil, the UK is around 50% self-sufficient – ​​although that percentage has fallen in recent years after the ban on a key pesticide led to large crop losses, which in turn meant farmers planted less rapeseed.

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That uncertainty – coupled with a near-complete halt to shipments from Ukraine – has meant both cooking oils are now becoming scarcer in supermarkets, while substitutes like olive oil are struggling to keep up with demand.

Britain produces rapeseed oil – but not enough to meet its needs (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

The situation has also put food manufacturers “under real pressure,” according to the Food and Drink Federation.

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Not only are they paying more for what little leftover sunflower and canola oil they have, but they are also having to look to substitute products — namely, palm oil — prices for which are now also rising due to demand.

For example, Iceland boss Walker told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you look at commodity prices, the commodity cost in the market has gone up 1,000% for sunflower oil, 400% for palm oil and then things like wheat, 50 %, fertilizer, 350%.

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“These are all unintended consequences of the war in Ukraine affecting supermarkets.”

To some extent, these price increases have already passed through to consumers, with CPI figures for March 2022 showing vegetable oil prices rising by an average of 34.8%.

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What limits do supermarkets set for cooking oil?

As of Saturday (23rd April) the major UK supermarkets rationing olive, sunflower and rapeseed oils are as follows:

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  • Tesco (three items per customer)
  • Morrisons (two items)
  • Waitrose (two items)
  • Iceland (one item per buyer)

Shelving gaps and substitutions of cooking oils when ordering online have also been spotted by customers from Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Lidl in recent weeks – although these retailers have not introduced restrictions on the quantity you can buy.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) – a trade body representing most of the country’s largest food retailers – says rationing is a temporary measure “to ensure availability for all”.

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The organization says its members are “working with suppliers to increase production of alternative cooking oils to minimize the impact on consumers.”

Tesco, which is not represented by the BRC, said in a statement: “We have good availability of cooking oils in stores and online. If a customer cannot find their preferred oil, we have many alternatives to choose from.

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“To ensure all our customers continue to get what they need, we have introduced a temporary purchase limit of three items per customer on products from our cooking oil range.”

Additional PA news agency coverage

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