Sunday, June 29, 2014

Natural Foods Fad Gives Butter a Bump


Americans this year are expected to eat an average of 5.6 pounds of butter, according to U.S. government data—nearly 22.5 sticks for every man, woman and child. That translates to 892,000 total tons of butter consumed nationwide, an amount not seen since World War II.
Americans in 2013 for the third straight year bought more butter than margarine, spending $2 billion on products from Land O'Lakes Inc., Organic Valley and others, compared with $1.8 billion on spreads and margarines, according to IRI, a market-research firm.
The revival flows in part from new legions of home gourmets inspired by celebrity chefs and cooking shows with butter-rich recipes. Butter makers have encouraged the trend, using food channels and websites to promote what they say is their products' natural simplicity.
Butter's shifting fortunes also reflect the vicissitudes of thinking on healthy eating that rattle the national diet. Families for decades opted for vegetable spreads because of concerns about butter's high concentration of saturated fat, only to be told more recently that the trans fats traditionally contained in margarine are just as unhealthy. Many Americans also have altered their thinking on how important reducing all fat is for controlling weight.
 Personally, I'm not seeing the same trend that is being reported in the article.  Until about 1995, combined use of butter and margarine ran between 15-20 pounds a year, but after that, margarine use has dropped precipitously, and butter has increased some, so that now combined use is 9.1 pounds.  Sounds to me like folks have found a substitute for both.  Olive oil, maybe? In the quaint downtown of our county seat we now have an olive oil store.  Really.  I like seeing butter use increase, but I'm not seeing the dramatic rise the article is telling me about.  However, I do want to highlight a little history:
Humans have been eating butter for millennia, valuing its ability to store longer than most meat and its utility as a flavoring. In the early 1900s, U.S. butter consumption averaged more than 18 pounds a person per year.
A French chemist invented margarine in 1869 in response to Napoleon III's call for a butter alternative. Initially it used fat from slaughtered animals that was cheaper than milk used for butter. Modern varieties using plant oils arose in the first half of the 20th century, when brands like Blue Bonnet and Parkay flourished. It gained more popularity around World War II, when butter was rationed.
It would be interesting to lay corn prices across the chart of margarine use.  Sure, the decline recently isn't due to higher corn prices, but I'm sure much of the rise in margarine use was due to cheap corn.

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