Consumer Alert: Dijon Mustard Soon to Depart Dijon!

As anyone who knows their mustard appreciates, Dijon mustard has long been the finest, the tangiest – really, the most mustardy – of condiments; has been, in fact, since mustard first started to be manufactured in Europe back in the mid-18th century. That label “Dijon” derives from the name of the city in eastern France, towards the Swiss border, where this particular mustard has been produced since that time, and has been protected by law since 1937.

Unfortunately, that “protection” was attached to the special technique for making the mustard, not to the place itself. As the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung now warns us (Dijon mustard becomes homeless), soon Dijon mustard will not come from Dijon anymore.

Since 1720 Dijon mustard has been produced only by a company called Amora Maille (which produces other food products as well), from Dijon, of course. But remember that it is routine for companies to own other companies, and Amora Maille’s long history has seen it become the property of owners as diverse as Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Danone, the French water/yoghurt/baby-food/etc. company. Right now the owner of Amora Maille happens to be Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch food company, and Unilever is merely doing what for-profit companies do, namely adjusting its operations to changed economic conditions.

In this case the change is a substantial increase in the cost of mustard-seeds in the past few years, in fact by 144% just in the past year alone. This has caused Unilever, via Amora Maille, to cut production at the main mustard plant in Dijon by 42% over the past six years, as well as by around 25% at another factory in the area, in a town called Appoigny. But now things have come to a point that no one could really relish: management has decided to cease production entirely at those two plants as of 31 December (265 jobs will be lost) and to consolidate Dijon mustard production with the production of mayonnaise, vinegar, and pickles that currently takes place in another factory at a place called Chevigny.

Wait: Dijon Mustard Already Outside Dijon!

All of these places where the mustard has been or will be produced are fairly easy to find using Google Maps. I went ahead and did that exercise for you, so you would not have to do it for yourself, but I think it might have also been useful if the author(s) of the Süddeutsche Zeitung article (no by-line given) had done the same. For the dirty little secret that emerges is that that other factory, at Appoigny, is itself around 130km from Dijon to the northwest (in the direction of Paris)! In other words, “Dijon mustard” has been produced outside of Dijon proper (130 km outside) for quite some while; this rather makes the lamentations on the part of mustard traditionalists recorded by the Süddeutsche Zeitung – i.e. that Dijon mustard will not longer be “Dijon” – lose much of their spicy bite. Frankly, you can also see from Google Maps that the new plant at Chevigny is, if anything, slightly closer to Dijon than the old plant at Appoigny is!

I guess the point that is making these Dijon mustard loyalists – among which seem to number a suspicious contingent of union officials – so peppery is that the mustard production is leaving its namesake city entirely, whereas before that was split between Dijon and Appoigny. In their eyes, this complete break with the city puts things on that famed “slippery slope”: if you don’t care to have any connection anymore with the city that provides your name, then why not just take your profit-maximization all the way and move production to truly low-cost locations like Eastern Europe or even Turkey? Now, it’s also true that Amora Maille has announced a further investment of €10 million in the plant at Chevigny, where the number of workers employed will also undoubtedly grow. But the “traditionalists” and trade-unions may still have a point, that with the uncoupling from the city of Dijon the last true obstacle to a sooner-or-later move of production to the East has been removed. And who ever heard of mustard on Turkey?

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