Butter: Full of Fat and Flavor

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Butter: Full of Fat and Flavor

By Anna Wolfe - 04/17/2017
Photo credit: Epicurean Butter

Butter, maligned for years because of its high-fat status, is finally being accepted for what it is – a dairy delight that enhances and adds to the flavor and texture of bread or whatever else it graces.

According to "Food Formulation Trends: Oils and Fats," a study released in April by market research firm Packaged Facts, younger consumers are more accepting of fats, and in fact are seeking out full-fat options of butter, milk and yogurt that have clean labels and are minimally processed.

"Butter is re-emerging because it gives a stellar performance as a familiar ingredient," with "clean and simple ingredient labels," says David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts.

Consumers less than 35 years old weren't subjected to the fat-free and low-fat crazes of 30 years ago. Therefore, they do not have to overcome negative perceptions about fat in general, according to the study.

"Thank God the tide has turned. The beliefs we had on fat and cholesterol are changing," says Elaine Khosrova, author of the book, Butter A Rich History, published last November by Algonquin Books.

She also has observed the generational variances in the perceptions of fat. "Consumers ages 60 to 80 are still so anti-fat; they've been programmed to be anti-fat. You put butter in front of them, they gasp and say, ‘This will go straight to my arteries.' Younger people, millennials and those younger … they're more attuned to new discussions on fat and nutrition," says Khosrova. "It's a complicated topic."

Consumers are increasingly shunning processed foods, and that includes highly processed vegetable oils and margarine, observes Khosrova, who also is former editor of Culture magazine, a consumer publication dedicated to cheese, and a former pastry chef with a bachelor of science in food and nutrition.

At Willy Street Co-op's three stores in Madison, Wis., customers are embracing fats and buying whole milk, full-fat yogurt and butter.

"The fat myth that fat is bad for you is starting to peel off slowly like an onion," says Dean Kallas, grocery category manager.

Willy Street's customers are not only seeking out whole milks and butters, but also those made from milk from grassfed cows. "Milk from a grassfed cow is better for you overall," says Kallas, because the milk is believed to be richer in omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene and cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). In general, butter has been a strong performer, and the co-op stocks about a dozen different varieties; most are made in Wisconsin. "We are selling a lot more grassfed butter than we used to," Kallas says. The grassfed butter from Organic Valley is a strong seller.

In general, Willy Street's customers want to know the stories behind the products. They are "looking for the source and how it is produced," Kallas says.

Willy Street Co-op features a dozen butters in its dairy case.

Embrace the Fat
Suppliers of specialty butters, too, have noticed more consumers embracing butter.

Janey Hubschman, co-owner of Epicurean Butter in Federal Heights, Colo., says, "It's is a good time to be in the butter business, I must say. When we first started 13 years ago, people were still making a decision to buy butter or an alternative. The difference is now that consumers want real food and are not concerned about fat ... Consumer perception has swung the other way."

But consumers shunning margarine doesn't necessarily mean they're picking up butter.

"Olive oil is a very popular alternative to butter. A lot of consumers use exclusively olive oil now," says Allison Hooper, co-founder of Websterville, Vt.-based Vermont Creamery, which was purchased by Land O'Lakes in March. "But there are just some things that taste better with butter than olive oil."

"The fear of fat is waning," Hooper adds. Cream, which is churned to make butter has been in excess in years past. "Now cream is in demand because of full-fat yogurt, and people want to drink whole milk. They don't want to eat hydrogenated fat and trans-fats. These are all good trends for butterfat; however it is still difficult to make high quality butter profitably."

An Affordable Luxury
"There's a real trend," says Khosrova about butter. "Consumers, especially foodies, know what's out there…

"Butter is very democratic. It is an affordable indulgence at the end of day. It's $4 to $5 for something that's transformative. It's not like trying to sell cheese that is $25 or $30 per pound, many people won't even go there."

Despite its affordability, butter has some hurdles to overcome. "Butter is generally a commodity," points out Vermont Creamery's Hooper, and therefore, specialty butter can be a foreign concept to some consumers.

At Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine in Chicago, butter can be a hard sell, says Lydia Burns, senior manager of procurement.

At Pastoral's four cheese shops, loyal turophiles are seeking bold flavors, so butter's soft creamy texture and mild, delicate flavor may not be what they're initially looking for, Burns explains.

The stores sell Italian, French and domestic specialty butters, including Vermont Creamery's cultured butter with sea salt and a honey butter from Minnesota.

Specialty food retailers, such as Pastoral and Di Bruno Bros., also make compound butters in-house – to use in prepared foods or to sell outright. Using a cookie press to make butter portions in decorative shapes increases the cuteness factor and spurs impulse purchases, Burns adds.

At Di Bruno Bros.' five stores in Philadelphia, butter has been given prime real estate – in the cheese case. "Years ago, we showed butter the respect it deserves and moved it to the cheese case," says Emilio Mignucci, VP. Specialty butters are showcased alongside specialty cheeses, and the stores' cheesemongers are on hand to promote, explain and sample.

As with everything specialty food, sampling sells. A simple self-serve sampling station of slices of crusty French baguette bread topped with cultured butter can turn the browser into a buyer.

Sampling can be expensive, but "you can't afford not to sample," Burns says.

This book delves into the history of butter and includes a collection of butter recipes.

Butter Must Haves
Elaine Khosrova, author of Butter A Rich History, suggests retailers looking to expand their selections of specialty butters to stock:

  • Kerrygold Irish butter. "You can't go wrong," she says.
  • A French butter with Protected Denomination of Origin status, formerly Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). "An AOC butter gives a retailer an opportunity to explain the butter making tradition in France."
  • Whey butter. This butter is made with whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking. "It's nice and tangy with a little cheesiness," she says. Khosrova suggests two Wisconsin butters: Farmhouse Kitchens and Sterling Creamery.
  • A butter keeper. Khosrova "highly recommends" this crock, which can be used for storing butter at room temperature for days. "A lot of consumers think you need to refrigerate butter. It depends on the temperature of the home," she says. "Even in the high 70s, it will ripen. It will change, but not go rancid."