Lest traditional June Dairy Month close before dairy products get their well-deserved day in the marketing sun, let's turn our attention to a rising star in the milk-products firmament: butter.
That's right — congealed animal fat. The traditional Public Health Enemy No. 1 — cue the Paula Deen references — when it comes to clogged arteries. The iconic dairy product that you thought was a goner long before Oldsmobile. Butter is actually enjoying a renaissance these days — perhaps a halo effect from the popularity of bacon, and certainly thanks in part to efforts by the leading U.S. butter brand, Land O' Lakes.
Whether margarine or butter actually is more healthful has been a confused issue for decades now after margarine took an early lead. "People have become concerned about industrially produced trans fatty acids found in margarines, which increases risk factors for heart disease," Gregory Miller, EVP of the National Dairy Council, told brandchannel. And "we have learned that saturated fat intake is not as important a risk factor for heart disease as previously thought."
In any event, there's no doubt that butter brands and products have been grabbing the upper hand in product innovation and, lately, sales. American consumers increasingly are seeking "pure, simple, flavor-rich ingredients," as Ad Age put it. As sales in the oils-and-fats category drop generally, in keeping with American's rising better-for-you impulses, it turns out that butter is taking a bigger share of what's left.
Grocery-unit sales of butter grew by more than 2 percent in the year ended May 13 compared with basically flat sales of olive oil and a 6-percent decline for margarine, spreads and butter blends, according to SymphonyIRI data, which excludes Walmart sales. Butter led with $1.5 billion in sales, nosing out margarine at $1.4 billion.
Innovations by Land O' Lakes, with 25 percent of the U.S. butter market, have included mixing canola oil, olive oil, salt and other ingredients with butter to make it more spreadable cold and boost its health patina. The farmer-owned and cooperative also has formed a partnership with celebrity food blogger and "Pioneer Woman" Ree Drummond to push its new product, butter with olive oil and sea salt. It tries to boost young consumers' interest in using such products in applications such as sauteeing that increasingly have become the province of olive oil.
Land O' Lakes also is pushing its chops as a globally minded partner in developing agriculture in many markets and as an advisor to its supplying farmer-members on issues of energy efficiency, sustainability and other green concerns.
So any way you slice it, things are better with butter.