How The War In Ukraine Could Hurt This Important French Staple

Baguettes are considered to be the symbol of a nation and the French consume this bread at the rate of 320 loaves per second, per Euronews. But with Russia's invasion of the world's breadbasket, there are fears that, like many places for which bread is an important staple, the baguette could end up being priced out of the reach of the people with whom it resonates the most.

Baguette prices have been rising steadily in France since the fall of last year, thanks to bad wheat harvests in Russia and in Canada, per MarketWatch; and then the cost of wheat skyrocketed as a consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Christophe Wattrelot, co-owner of Moulin La Camphinoise, a mill that supplies flour to 100 bakeries around the area, tells the BBC that the fighting has had an impact on prices. "Since the conflict in Ukraine broke out, the rise in the cost of wheat and corn has been remarkable," he says. 

French boulangeries were warning of increases since September of 2021

Even in September, MarketWatch reported that French boulangeries had begun telling their customers that the price of a baguette was about to go up between $0.04 and $0.06 due to the rising cost of wheat. Wattrelot says "Back in September, the price of wheat was €240 ($262) per tonne – and it's now over €400 ($437)," per the BBC

And even if the increase to the cost per unit of a baguette didn't seem like much, French Confederation of Bakeries and Pastry Shops president Dominique Anract, noted that in fact, "it's a huge increase. The baguette is precious. It has only gone up 23 centimes in the last 20 years."

Thanks to the war, that increase got even bigger. "We've already had to put it [the price] up once. It used to be €1.10 ($1.20) but I think from September, we are going to have to put it up again – maybe to €1.50 (£1.63)," boulangerie owner Christian Haberey tells the BBC.

French bakeries aren't the only ones feeling the burn

Unfortunately, wheat prices are not the only cost centers that boulangerie owners need to consider. There are also energy costs, which are higher, as well as the cost of hiring and retaining expert staff — the BBC says a good percentage of the amount paid per baguette used to go into wages. All things considered, bakeries are unable to absorb all of their new costs without passing a part of that onto consumers.

It might be of some comfort for French bakers to know that their pain is being felt by compatriots in Belgium, where Albert Denoncin, co-president of the Belgian Bakery and Pastry Confederation warning that "We must not forget that Ukraine is the granary of Europe, and with what is happening at the moment, there is nothing more coming out of Ukraine," per Euronews.

"This means that tomorrow we could see the price of flour quadruple, which wouldn't surprise us, given the current circumstances," Denoncin says, adding that if consumers needed to take skyrocketing energy prices into consideration, which they do, "So I'll let you imagine, the worst is yet to come."