Nobody puts butter in a corner. Not anymore. Long shunted to the dietary sidelines because of its saturated-fat content and high caloric value, butter is undergoing a renaissance. You can thank fine-dining (see related article) and a renewed interest in cooking at home for that.

This autumn, Land O Lakes tapped into the home chef market. The Arden Hills, Minn.-based dairy cooperative developed a new butter-based cooking ingredient called Sauté Express Sauté Starter. Made with seasoned butter and olive oil, the ingredient is used to flavor chicken, fish and pork. The flavors are Garlic & Herb, Italian Herb, Savory Butter & Olive Oil and Lemon Pepper.

A single-flavor package of six 1-ounce squares has a suggested retail price of $3.79. Each square cooks two chicken breasts, two pork chops or two fish fillets and combines the flavors of butter, olive oil, herbs and spices.

The product is reminiscent of Kraft’s new Fresh Take cheese and bread crumbs kit in that dairy processors are developing “ingredient systems” that simplify recipe preparation. Land O Lakes cited a report from the Center for Marketing Intelligence that showed that families are eating more meals at home now than in previous years (72% in 2010 compared to 52% in 2003). In a statement, Land O Lakes said “busy moms” want convenience, nutrition and flavor in dinner preparation. Its testing revealed that moms want to easily create a meal without a complex recipe. By flavoring the butter, Land O Lakes does just that.

Land O’Lakes is the dominant brand name in the retail butter category (see table). It is second to private-label brands, but it sells more than six times as many units as its closest rival, Challenge Butter(a brand of California Dairies Inc.). Earlier this year, Land O Lakes introduced a new butter made with olive oil and sea salt. The olive oil makes the butter more spreadable, a continuing trend in the category.

Smaller brands are competing in the category. Chicago-based Isola Imports Inc. rolled out its own line of all-natural, hand-crafted gourmet butters sold in 3.5-ounce clear plastic containers. The flavors are Basil Pesto, Blue Cheese, Italian Truffle, Roasted Garlic, Porcini and Sundried Tomato.

Ilios Dairy Brands LLC, a marketer based in Minerva, Ohio, launched a butter made with Greek yogurt. Manufactured by Minerva Dairy Inc., the product is an all-natural probiotic butter that has no artificial flavors, no artificial colors and no preservatives. Sue Delegan, president of Ilios Dairy Brands, said the Greek yogurt butter contains five live and active cultures. Compared to conventional butter, the food has 25% less fat, 30% fewer calories and 33% less cholesterol. It is sold in a 15-ounce re-sealable tub and traditional quarter sticks in a one-pound carton.

For Greenwood, Wis., butter maker Grassland, the focus is on “growing our ‘real’ butter categories,” said Trevor Wuethrich, vice president.  “We will continue to emphasis the natural goodness of real butter across all product categories. Additionally, we will continue to grow our ultra-premium brand, Wüthrich Artisan Butters.”

The artisan butters include an 83% European-style butter and a clarified butter for the foodservice market. The higher fat content “gives extra body to baked goods such as croissants and puff pastries,” Wuethrich said. The clarified butter is 99.9% pure butterfat. Based on consumer demand, Grassland this year developed an organic butter sold at retail and to foodservice markets.

One way to reach interested consumers and to stay on top of trends is through social media. Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Mo., appeals to home chefs through its Plugra Gourmet Club, a network of local dinner clubs linked through a Facebook page and a website. Plugra is a European-style (higher-fat) butter marketed by Global Dairy Products Group, a division of DFA. Plugra offers interviews with well-known restaurant chefs, demonstration videos, themed menu ideas and food and wine pairings. Plugra partnered with Saveur magazine, which selects a dinner club each month to receive $500 toward its next party.

With interest from gourmands and innovative products like Sauté Express Sauté Starter for everyday chefs, butter could be moving from bit player to headliner.  N


Butter Makers Are Talking About:

• Consumers’ appreciation for fat

• Flavoring butter with herbs

• Blending butter with olive oil or Greek yogurt

• Opportunities for small, niche players in the category


Butter takes its place at the table

By Mary Chapman, Technomic Inc.

Many restaurants are describing their dishes more completely — in part to be transparent about ingredients used for those who are watching what they eat for dietary or allergy reasons, but also because consumers care about the quality of the ingredients that go into their dishes. Some diners believe that if you’re going to eat a dish with fat, you might as well eat a dish with butter.

Butter is named in 2,278 items in second quarter 2012, up 8% from 2,119 items in the same period of 2011, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor online trend-tracking resource, which analyzes the menus of more than 1,200 top chains, emerging concepts and leading independent restaurants. Of course, butter is used in many items where it is not called out as a menu descriptor. However, it is an appealing descriptor, and used often in fish and seafood dishes. A search of MenuMonitor finds several new dishes with butter in the menu description. For example:

• Asia de Cuba, an upscale concept with locations in Miami, Los Angeles and London, added Cuban coffee-crusted rib eye entrée with Mandarin orange and gingered sherry butter and yuca mojo fries.

• Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. added salmon & veggie skillet, with grilled salmon and fresh vegetables, topped with garlic herb butter and capers, and served over jasmine rice.

• Daniel, celebrity chef Daniel Boulud’s high-end New York restaurant, created Jerusalem artichoke marmalade with Provence black truffle, Tahoon cress and brown butter emulsion.

• In Chicago, Girl & The Goat offers diver scallops served with braised duck, almond butter, green papaya, and green almond nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce).


— Mary Chapman is the director of product innovation
at Technomic Inc., Chicago.