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Ukraine war

Berlin’s new hamsterkauf: Why is the city out of sunflower oil?

Oil prices are going up – but it's not just petrol that's the problem. Supplies of Ukrainian sunflower oil are also in peril.

Stocks of sunflower oil are running low in Germany as production is affected by the war in Ukraine. Photo: IMAGO / Geisser

As the war in Ukraine continues and refugees arrive in Berlin by the thousand, the city has begun to feel some unexpected consequences of the conflict. Recent days have seen a run on sunflower oil in supermarkets, with many stores restricting the amount customers are allowed to purchase at once.

Empty shelves have been spotted across the city, and – where it has not been limited – people have been leaving supermarkets with shopping trolleys full of the stuff. And this isn’t just the standard German hamsterkauf, similar shortages have been reported across Europe: in Romania, Turkey and Madrid. But why? 

First of all, Ukraine grows a lot of sunflowers. It’s their national flower. In the early days of the Ukraine war, an old woman was filmed telling the invading Russian soldiers to keep some sunflower seeds in their pockets so that, when they died, sunflowers would grow. 

Put Sunflower seeds in your pockets, please. You will lie down here with the seeds… You are occupiers. You are enemies.” 

Ukraine is responsible for around 40 percent of all sunflower oil refined in Europe. Since the war began, about 200,000 tonnes per month have been prevented from reaching European ports. Current stocks are only expected to last from four to six weeks, with the war following a poor harvest in Canada, another major producer. In recent months, the price of sunflower oil has doubled – a cheap bottle which cost less than €1 a few months ago now costs almost €2. 

And the effect of these price increases will be felt everywhere, even for those haughty consumers who prefer olive oil. Sunflower oil is a key ingredient in many other products like mayonnaise, biscuits and preserves – as well being widely used in restaurants as their frying oil of choice. Expect price increases across the board.