Americans are about to be reminded that butter is a luxury

August 31, 2014
August 31, 2014

The fact that Americans have stopped vilifying butter and embraced its full-fat role as part of a “wholesome, “natural” diet is perhaps old news by now. Earlier this year, we learned that US butter consumption officially hit a 40-year high in 2012, and that hardly anyone eats margarine anymore. Butter converts might not have considered, though, what would happen if the dairy industry couldn’t keep churning out enough of it out to meet demand.

The amount of butter stored in refrigerated warehouses across the US is 42% lower this summer than last, according to the USDA (pdf). On Aug. 29, butter futures reached an all-time high of $2.55 per pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

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Not only did US cows produce less milk than expected this year, but the fat content of that milk was lower than usual, reports Bloomberg. That lack of inputs for making butter or cheese is pushing prices to new highs. Now companies like Dean Foods to Panera Bread are feeling the pinch as they spend more to keep up with customers’ demand for these dairy products—as are companies that make margarine, such as Unilever.

“Consumers believe that butter is a simpler product that feels more natural,” Mike Flaherty, vice president of Unilever, told the Wall Street Journal (paywall) in June, “without understanding that it’s an indulgence made from animal fats.” Flaherty should take heart that those fickle consumers will now at least begin to understand the “indulgence” part.

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