Oh la vache: France suffers from shortage of butter

Have you noticed the gaps in the supermarket fridges in France or a hike in the price of your croissant?

Oh la vache: France suffers from shortage of butter
Photo: AFP

The consequences of France running out of butter could be pretty catastrophic. For a start you might have to bid adieu to your morning croissant or pain au chocolat.

Although we are'nt there yet, France is suffering from a shortage of butter and we can’t say we haven’t been warned because those in the dairy industry have been doing just that for months.

According to a report in Le Monde newspaper on Friday the shortage is due in part to a huge increase in demand for butter throughout the developing world as well as the growing appetite for French pastries like croissants, notably in China.

But even in France the rate of butter consumption has increased by five percent in recent years.

Have you noticed gaps in the refrigerated shelves of your supermarkets? It appears that only the most expensive brands of butter are now available in many supermarkets in France.

Brittany, Normandy, Franche-Comté and Centre-Val de Loire are particularly affected, reports say.

Some stores have been forced to put up the notice: “The butter market faces an unprecedented shortage of raw material which has led to shortages in stores.”

As The Local reported back in June, the price of butter has exploded in recent months. In 2016 the price of a ton of butter was €2,500 but by this summer it had reached €7,000.

That hike has not had much of an impact on the price of butter in supermarkets yet because the industry sets the price for big supermarkets on an annual basis.

Hugues Beyler, director of the Federation of Commerce and Distribution (FCD) said for the moment there are only “occasional shortages, often linked to problems of logistics” as well as the butter-loving French public panic buying and filling their shopping baskets with more blocks of “President” than usual.

And the knock on effect is that the price of your morning pastry is steadily going up, with many bakers having been forced to add 5 or 10 centimes on the price of a croissant.

France's federation of bakeries has called for the dairy industry to prioritise the production of butter as a way of battling the rise in prices. 


French baker leads crusade to protect 'noble' croissant from industrial pastries


How Switzerland plans to beat its butter shortage

Switzerland is facing a butter shortage “for the first time in years”, thanks mainly to a surge in cheese production which left little milk at the table for butter producers.

(Illustration) A butter producer gets up close and personal with the good stuff in neighbouring France. Photo: GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP
To make sure Swiss bread doesn’t go unbuttered, the country will (temporarily) change laws to bring butter across the border. 

The Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture said midweek that the country’s butter stores were running dangerously low, with only 2,300 tonnes in reserve – although this amount is up from a low of 1,500 tonnes earlier in Spring. 

In a press release, the Office said “for the first time in years, there is an insufficient supply of Swiss butter for the (local) market.”

“A shortage of butter supply, especially at the end of the year, must be prevented.”

READ: Here's how Switzerland is planning to avoid coronavirus food shortages 

The government was responding to an application from the Swiss milk industry, asking that import quotas be temporarily relaxed to allow more butter across the border. 

An additional 1,000 tonnes will now be allowed across the border, around 2.3 percent of the total sold in Switzerland each year. 

From coffee to nuclear fuel: What you need to know to understand Switzerland's strategic stockpiles 

The exemption will be granted for 2020 only. 

A cheesy excuse

Unlike other supply shortages experienced across the country in recent months, the lack of butter isn’t due only to the coronavirus – although plenty of lockdown-inspired baking is unlikely to help. 

Instead, higher cheese production has meant that less milk fat has been available to produce butter in recent months. 

Milk producers make more money from cheese production than from butter, meaning that when butter’s turn comes around, the pail is dry (or at least a little too empty).