Jan. 20, 2014
By Charles Passy, MarketWatch
Butter is back
Despite years of being warned that butter is bad for you, Americans are looking
the other way. Sales of the rich stuff now top $2 billion a year in the U.S. — a 65% increase since 2000 . The
American Butter Institute also reports that per-capita consumption is now at a 40-year high of 5.6
In other words, there’s a whole lot of spreading going on.
And for good reason, say the foodies who are behind the butter boom.
With other spreads, “you don’t get the same taste and you don’t get that nice
browning,” says Jocelyn Ruggiero, the writer behind the Foodie Fatale blog .
But what about margarine and other spreads made from vegetable oils? Apparently,
they’re so 2012, according to Unilever, the consumer products conglomerate that has been behind such butter
alternatives as Country Crock and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. Last year, the company began promoting Rama, a
butter-based spread. Antoine Bernard de Saint-Affrique, head of Unilever’s Food division, told investors last month
that he sees a real shift in consumer taste and demand.
“We [at Unilever] have been too obsessed, overly obsessed” with margarine, said de
Saint-Affrique. “I’m happy to say that this time is over and we have changed. And we have changed in a very
significant way.” (Talk about obsessiveness: As recently as 2010, de Saint-Affrique was quoted as saying, “Some
people say it’s bread and butter, but here we say, it’s bread and margarine.”)
The change in taste has more to do with just a literal change in taste, however.
It also has to do with the ongoing discussions about the health benefits and risks of all types of fats, be they
saturated (as is the case with butter) or trans fat (as is the case with some types of margarine). The bottom line:
Many nutritional and cardiovascular experts are saying that butter may not be as bad
as once suspected; some even say a little butter could be good in the diet. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug
Administration is moving to ban trans fats altogether.
Just as important, says Ruggiero, the food blogger, there’s a growing awareness
that a little butter goes a long way. Instead of slathering the butter on, as is still often the case at
restaurants, home cooks are recognizing that a pat or two can provide just enough flavor. And it’s the kind of
sumptuous flavor that margarine lacks, adds Ruggiero.
“I’d rather have a teaspoon of butter than four tablespoons of margarine,” she