The Great Butter Crisis from Brittany
EU Regulations, falling levels of milk production, a renewed love affair with saturate fats in the West, and greater demand for pastries in Asia, have created a perfect storm leading some to call the current butter shortage the worst since the second world war. A shortage that has left pastry makers and consumers scrambling to find the most popular and best quality salty butter variety from Brittany.
Brittany, at the western most part of France, with its rich farm lands and adept climate has long been prized as a top milk, butter producer in Europe.
A butter cherished in local delicacies like kouign amann, far, gateau breton, and crepes, but also known as a secret ingredient of top chefs and bakers worldwide.
Some of the most sought after butter in the current shortage is the Breton butter flecked with large, coarse grains of salt "Fleur de sel" harvested on marshes in Guérande.
The fluctuation of butter prices stem from 2015 when the Europe Union abolished milk quotas causing an initial flood of milk supplies followed by a collapse in global prices prompting dairy farmers to cut output. A cutting of output that hadn't anticipated a jump in demand coming from USA due to studies claiming that butter decrease risks of cancer, arthritis, and osteoporosis. A rekindling of Western consumers taste for butter coupled with growing demand from China helping to lead to the current shortage.
The deep shortage of high quality Breton butter does have a special French twist due to a dysfunctional nature of price controls, where supermarket groups aren't passing along price surges to locally based farmers. As dairy farmers complain they get little benefit from the growing butter markets, French consumers have not yet seen butter prices rise at the checkout because supermarket groups fix their prices once a year. In the last 6 months, a 250 gram stick of butter in Germany has climbed 52% while only 6% in France.
The next price fixing in France will take place in February, meaning butter suppliers will currently get better margins by selling elsewhere. Predications of surging croissant prices and empty shelves in stores will continue to persist leaving lovers of Breton butter who couldn't dream of substituting butter with cheaper margarine, rushing to buy and freezing it, worsening the depleting supermarket stocks.
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