The holiday season is so close we can almost taste it! That means families are finalizing the menus for upcoming Thanksgiving dinners and other holiday parties. What are you most excited to make (or eat) this year? Turkey? Mashed potatoes? Mac and cheese? Pie? Cookies? Chances are your favorite holiday dishes and desserts require a lot of butter.
But you’ve likely seen some headlines about a rumored “nationwide butter shortage” ahead of the holiday season. According to news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine, a labor shortage and issues with U.S. milk production have contributed to a declining butter supply. And the most recent USDA report shows there was 22% less butter in storage this October compared to October 2021. A Department of Labor (DOL) report also shows butter costs 24% more today than one year ago.
So is there really a widespread butter shortage in the U.S.? Heather Anfang, Senior Vice President of Dairy Foods, Land O’Lakes, Inc., says the short answer is, “No.”
“We are anticipating minimum disruption to Land O Lakes® Butter supply, so you should have enough butter for your holiday baking,” Heather says. “Despite the challenging market environment, the business is performing well, demand has been resilient, and the team is executing with agility to best position ourselves for the remainder of the year.”
Christian Edmiston, Vice President of Procurement at Land O’Lakes, leads one of the cross-functional teams in charge of ensuring butter stays on store shelves. He says the good news is that, unlike the previous two years, warehouse and transportation labor shortages aren’t the main drivers of issues in the butter supply chain. Instead, tighter inventory in 2022 is mostly due to high markets.
“We continue to be challenged, like so many, by inflationary costs in combination with historically high butter markets,” Christian says. “The industry as a whole is lower on inventory right now, and that’s because butter has been so expensive to make so there wasn’t a ton of extra product being made to prepare for peak season in Q4. The industry will work to correct itself with butter producers working with retail customers to make sure they are aligned.”
Christian’s team works closely with Angela Pengelly, Marketing Director for Land O’Lakes Retail Butter & Spreads, whose team manages demand on a consumer level.
“Prices have been higher but around the same time as the price increases, we started to promote a powerful campaign called ‘Eat it Like You Own it’ to give loyal customers a reason to stick with us,” Angela says.
The campaign reminds consumers that buying Land O’Lakes products directly benefits over 1,000 dairy farmer-owners and their communities. Angela says the campaign has been successful and the team has seen significant increases in the perception that Land O’Lakes is a company that shares values with the consumer and goes above and beyond to support farmers and rural communities.
With a slow start to butter sales in 2022, consumers started stocking up much more in the second half of the year. A sudden boom in butter demand appeared to kick off thanks to a viral TikTok of a “butter board” posted on Sept. 15. It’s exactly as it sounds. A charcuterie board but with butter as its base instead of meat and cheese. Since the viral TikTok, copycat videos using the #butterboard hashtag have racked up nearly 400 million views on the social media app.
“It’s hard to say if the jump was because of the butter boards trend, or if it’s just that back-to-baking holiday season,” says Caroline Heuring Vegoe, Director of Customer Marketing at Land O’Lakes. “Either way, it’s clear butter is trending in a big way.
In Caroline’s role, she serves as the liaison between Angela’s marketing team and the field sales team, making sure to promote in-store appropriately for inventory available. She says they are working on a more customer-by-customer basis this year.
“The weeks right before Thanksgiving and Christmas are critical for us,” Caroline says. “That’s when most stores start running ads or in-store displays for our butter. For example, if we know a retailer is running Land O Lakes® Butter ads next week, we will prioritize our shipments from our distribution centers to make sure the supply is there.”
“We are meeting retailers where they are so that they win and we win too,” Angela adds.
When asked if rumors of a nationwide butter shortage were overblown, Christian quickly answered “yes.”
“While inventory has been lower, they aren’t that low compared to other years,” Christian explains. “Could there be one store you shop at that might not have what you want? Yes, but it’s very unlikely you won’t be able to find it somewhere else nearby. We’ve been through this before and our cross-functional coordination has been better than it’s ever been.”