Butter: A healthy fat or fad?

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10 Apr 2018 --- Butter consumption has increased by 1.7 million metric tons per annum over the last ten years. This market shift comes as the world adopts a better understanding of the health benefits of butter. While historically experts advised people to reduce their fat intake, they now agree that fats are beneficial for people’s health – especially natural dairy fats. Consumers are looking for natural, authentic whole foods such as butter, driving a resurgence in this area. And even with different consumer groups, the changing recommendations around butter have permitted them to eat butter again.

Butter’s resurgence may be partially due to a growing interest in what are considered real, authentic foods, as well as a growing body of research on the benefits of dairy fats. With growing acceptance that butter may actually be good for you, companies are ramping up launch activity. Innova Market Insights data show that the indexed number of global launches tracked with butter as an ingredient has seen a CAGR of +15 percent between 2013 and 2017.

The key categories that saw growth in the use of butter between 2013 and 2017 were Desserts and Ice Cream (+15.4 percent), Confectionery (+15.4 percent) and Bakery (+15.4 percent), respectively. Further data show that there was an annual growth of +13.3 percent in the use of butter as a flavor in snacks over this period, mainly in the Popcorn category. Moreover, there was +12 percent annual growth in the use of butter flavor in bakery, with examples including Nabisco Oreo Cookie Butter Flavor Creme Filled Sandwich Cookies (US).

Click to EnlargeDietary fat as part of a balanced diet is driving butter demand globally. In the food industry, we continuously see changes in the needs for fats, mainly butter. Of course, some fats, such as trans fats (PHOs) often come under scrutiny and later this year the long-awaited US regulation comes into force concerning the complete removal of trans fats. You can read

FoodIngredientsFirst coverage on this here and here.

In contrast to this butter, is surging in popularity and the demand must be answered. According to Casey Thomas, NZMP – Dairy Foods Category Director, people like butter because it’s delicious, but for decades incorrect information about fat being bad for your health stopped many consumers from eating it. As a result, myths around dairy fats and heart disease have been debunked butter consumption is rising globally.

“The idea that all fat is bad is no longer considered valid. Fat is an important part of a healthy diet, with the WHO recommending up to 30 percent of total daily energy intake should come from dietary fats,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst

“Globally, we see butter consumption grow. Advanced markets like the US and Europe were probably the first to increase butter consumption after health risks were debunked. However, it's now marketed like the Middle East and China that customers and consumers are calling for more and more New Zealand butter.”

 

Who is turning to a higher-fat diet?

Click to Enlarge
Casey Thomas, NZMP – Dairy Foods Category Director

When we look at higher-fat consumers we break them down into five different types, says Thomas.

• Taste Lovers: People who enjoy the more satisfying taste and texture of full-fat products
• Sugar Lowerers: People who want to reduce their sugar intake and perceive low-fat products as higher in sugar
• Protein Lovers: Consumers who are choosing high-protein products and overlooking fat content
• Naturally Healthy Seekers: Consumers who perceive naturally high-fat products as healthier than low-fat, processed alternatives
• Low Carbers: People going low-carb and "higher fat" for sports, fitness or weight wellness reasons

Thomas also maintains that butter is a form of nutrition that is natural and a good addition to human health. “Consumers are also increasingly looking for natural products that taste good and they want to understand the ingredient list of their foods. Butter is as natural as it gets, made of just cream, or cream and salt – so butter offers food manufacturers the ability to have a clean, understandable ingredients list on their products.” 

“Consumers are increasingly looking for wholesome foods, and butter is nutritionally rich. Butter contains fat-soluble vitamins and more than 400 different fatty acids. But not all butter is the same. It’s important for food manufacturers to use the very best milk fats when they want to answer consumer trends around clean labeling and a desire for naturally healthy foods,” he explains.

Beta-carotene is what gives great milk fats a distinctive golden yellow color and milk from grass-fed cows has more beta-carotene than milk from grain-fed cows. So, country of origin impacts the taste and look of butter hugely.

Thomas also notes: “Our farming follows the natural patterns of pasture growth in New Zealand, making it one of the few places in the world where cows graze on grass for most of the year. Research shows that grass-fed dairy products have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and vitamin K2, which can be found in NZMP Butter from New Zealand.”

Click to EnlargeAnd he believes that innovation will extend the range of butter ingredients.  “While the vast majority of what we sell is pure butter, we also provide a full range of butter ingredients, including spreadable butter and butter blends. As demand for butter continues to grow, and therefore price is expected to increase, we are likely to see a plethora of new butter products on the market,” Thomas suggests. 

He also believes that in years to come, leading food manufacturers will innovate their butter product ranges and formulation to meet all consumer needs, from premium through to affordable options.

BO Butter is a self-help organization of the butter industry and milk producers. Director of the organization for BO Butter GmbH, Peter Ryser, also spoke with FoodIngredientsFirst about the trends the organization is monitoring.

“The Swiss butter market reacts differently to the EU butter market. Sales volumes have been very stable in recent years. In recent years, around 44,500 tons of butter, plus/minus 500 tons, has been sold in Switzerland. In recent years, we have seen different developments that have or will affect butter consumption in the future.”

More and more butter is consumed outside the home, which means that butter is increasingly used and sold in processed products, according to Ryser. “Thus, more butter can be sold to the industry. However, the industry is very price sensitive, where vegetable fat can be used, as it is much cheaper, therefore, sales to the industry have increased only slightly.”

The Swiss consumer is a critical consumer and also willing to pay a little more if he can buy healthy, fresh, local or sustainable products.

Ryser believes that these trends “overlap” and lead to the fact that less butter is consumed in Switzerland, but not more.

Recently, the palm fat came heavily in the criticism. “So far, this has not led to an increase in sales of butter in Switzerland,” notes Ryser. “The vegetable fats are mainly processed in industrial products. Since the vegetable fats are much cheaper, the industrial processors will try to replace the palm fat with other vegetable fats. Nevertheless, we hope that the consumer continues to critically question the products and that there are still industrial processors who will switch to butter, which will allow more butter to be sold in Switzerland,” he explains.

A resurgence of butter in Asia
In Asia, disposable income is increasing, and consumers are looking for more premium food options. According to Fonterra, consumers are willing to pay 15 percent more for bakery products made with butter compared to margarine. In Southeast Asia, the trends and needs for natural butter are present, showing itself very apparently despite the fact that market is still developing.​​​​​​​

FoodIngredientsFirst spoke to Fonterra’s Regional Foodservice Director Stanley Goh who noted that Fonterra sees their customers making a move away from synthetic ingredients and substitutes such as margarine in applications that typically use butter. And one sector which is taking shape is the bakery sector. ​​​​​​​
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Click to EnlargeHe says: “Bakery is a channel that has moved more towards butter, and not just for the application of croissants, but for cakes, buns, and other pastries, so the bakery sector as a channel is gaining most from this movement.”

In light of discussions around natural fats vs. trans-fat, consumers are increasingly more aware and the international awareness is constantly changing. Goh says that: “Contradictory facts always change, and now butter is seen as a healthy option, the best advice is ‘everything in moderation.’”

Based on the current trends Goh believes that the resurgence of butter will continue to make a positive move upwards: “The usage of dairy is likely to grow 3 percent year on year in Southeast Asia, but if we read the numbers of how we have performed over the last few years we do see an increase in forecast. For example, bakery as a foodservice channel is the largest growing single channel and that trend based on customer feedback which will continue over the next couple of years,” he states. 

Overview
Even though as a whole, trends in dairy are changing because increased numbers of people are following plant-based and vegan lifestyles. Butter is still showing no signs of slowing down and demand for the commodity seems to be strong overall. The need for vegan has not yet affected the demand for butter and real dairy, although many vegan-friendly “butter” is widely available. It does seem when it comes to butter; consumers still prefer the real dairy type and rich, creamy taste that butter brings to the table.

By Elizabeth Green

 

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com

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