America's Appetite for Butter Hasn't Melted During the Pandemic — In Fact, We're Buying More Than Ever

And nearly 20% more, at that.

Block of butter, close-up
Block of butter, close-up. Photo: Creativ Studio Heinemann

Over the past eight or so months, many aspects of the world have been turned upside down. The realities of pandemic life immediately rendered some products or services temporarily obsolete (travel, wholesale-sized food products), while others instantly became coveted top sellers (toilet paper, baking yeast). Now, it seems that we can add butter to the latter list.

That information comes via Bloomberg who notes that Land O'Lakes' butter is selling like hotcakes. Specifically, they believe butter sales will ultimately jump to between 275 and 300 million pounds in 2020, which is about 20% more than what consumers would buy in an average year.

That sort of retail sale surge for at-home customers is a pretty remarkable turn of events for butter given where things stood in the earlier days of the pandemic. In the first days of stay at home orders and restaurant shutdowns, dairy farmers had little choice but to dump a lot of product at a moment of mismatch between wholesale demand and their supply. Bloomberg estimates that the instant shutdown of food service operations at schools and restaurants across the country meant Land O'Lakes took a 15% to 20% hit business-wise. Somehow, though, we've all been buying so much butter for use at home that the decline seems to have been completely offset.

"Often times, even for the retail business, what you do is you make a lot of butter because it's peak milk production time, and you store it for the key season," during the holidays, Land O'Lakes CEO Beth Ford said in an interview cited by Bloomberg. "But the buying was so strong that we didn't do that, because we were selling right off the line."

So what happens next? Butter demand is typically strongest during the winter and around the holidays. That could push those boosted consumer sales figures even higher, but an emphasis on smaller gatherings could dampen some of that demand to a certain extent. Either way, Land O'Lakes says they'll be ready, especially after focusing its production efforts on 36-pound butter cases in order to push output to maximum levels.

So if you've noticed that you're churning through sticks of butter a lot faster than you usually do, you're not alone. Maybe dairy isn't dead after all.

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