Plant-Based butter: the new star in the dairy aisle

8 May 2020

First, there was meat, then there was milk. Now, butter is shaping up to be the new darling of the plant-based offerings as consumers look toward more sustainable alternatives for their diets.

This summer, Kite Hill will release its plant-based butter in the United States. Flora, which is owned by Upfield Group, is gaining popularity in Europe. Milkadamia has Butta-Bing Butta-Bloom. And Miyoko’s Creamery has a plant-based butter option as well. Older brands have also gotten on the train with Country Crock’s Olive Oil Plant Butter and Earth Balance products touting plant-based labels.

Plant-Based butter: the new star in the dairy aisle

The plant-based movement is growing. People want to feel healthier and a study from DuPont Nutrition & Health found that this desire has driven 52% of U.S. consumers to opt for plant-based options. The result is that the retail sales of plant-based foods rose 11.4% in 2019 to reach a market value of $5 billion, according to data from the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) and The Good Food Institute (GFI). In particular, the dairy category has seen considerable growth.

No one ever said that butter was good for a person. So what is it about plant-based butters that make people feel healthier? The answer might have something to do with the environmental impact of butter products. Forbes reported that scientists found that for every 2.2 pounds of plant-based butter, 7.3 pounds of CO2 is produced – that is 73% less than for dairy-based spreads. The production of plant-based butter also used significantly less water than traditional butter and does not require as much intensive land husbandry as raising dairy cows.

However, vegetable-based butter spreads are nothing new as margarine has been around since the 19th century. So, with no major difference between plant-based butters and margarine, what is drawing customers to these plant-based alternatives? Firstly, the terminology of the former makes it clear that there are no animal components used in the products. Margarine can sometimes feature milk ingredients although it is generally composed of vegetable fats. This is important not only for those looking to eat a primarily plant-based diet, but also for those who are lactose intolerant, which according to research from Cornell University could be 60% of adults worldwide.

At the same time, plant-based alternatives have lower levels of saturated and trans fat. The margarine market was marred by its association with trans fat, which has been shown to raise the bad cholesterol (LDL) in the human body and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes. Although manufacturers largely reduced the amount of trans fat used in margarine spreads, a stigma lingers over the product category – something the terminology “plant-based” does not carry.

Still, the social and environmental values associated with plant-based are hard to ignore. As the meat and dairy industry come under fire for sustainability concerns, plant-based products are in a prime position to step in and offer consumers an alternative. Butter appears to be the next category poised for an overhaul.

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