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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fortune-telling: Butter prices down the pike

(I know you all think that I have way too much time on my hands, hence these posts on the forecasted price of eggs and butter. But in actuality, I have the same amount of free time as everyone else. I just happen to use my free time a bit peculiarly, as in reading domestic, Oceanic and European dairy reports.)

In the comment's section, the other day, the price of butter at the supermarket came up. What are your supermarket prices like on butter, these days? The regular price is upwards of $3 per pound in my area, at the regular grocery stores. I've been buying most of my butter at Cash & Carry, in bulk, 30-lb cases of butter prints. ("Butter print" is the term describing pounds of butter that are wrapped, all in one 1-lb block, in a single sheet of printed waxed paper.) I do get a more favorable price per pound than the standard supermarket price, with exception to loss-leader sales.

Anyway, I was reading a bunch of dairy reports and forecasts yesterday, trying to get a handle on what the future price of butter might be this coming fall and winter.

So, the rise in prices in late 2014 was due in large part to increasing exports of US butter. It made more financial sense for dairy producers to sell US butter overseas, where they could get a better price. This increased income for farmers meant that they could pay down debt, increase herd size and pay for expensive feed. And as we all know, this meant a reduced supply for US consumers, and a higher price for us as a consequence.

From what I've read, production will increase in the immediate future and down the road into 2016, with increased herd size. It's also been projected that exported butter will drop down as the international market becomes saturated. (If producers can't get their favorable high price internationally, due to saturation of the market, selling domestically will again increase.) So, as the domestic supply of butter increases, albeit in small bits at a time, butter prices (which have already pulled back in the wholesale market since the end of last year), will ultimately drop a bit more at our local supermarkets.

So what all this boils down to is this -- it's my thinking that butter prices will be better this year, over last year, for the November/December holidays. Don't sue me if I'm wrong! LOL! But this is just my hunch.

You could still see butter as a loss-leader in one of your stores, as summer draws to a close. With dropping wholesale prices on all dairy in recent months (price of cheese and liquid milk has come down in my area -- yours, too?), retailers would not take too big of a hit if they put butter as a loss-leader near the end of summer, very beginning of fall. (This season change corresponds with consumer changes in cooking and baking, as we move away from easy barbeque cookery and back to the warm air of a kitchen wafting with baking and cooking aromas.) So, with this reasoning, I looked back through my grocery journals, and found that butter was on sale for $2/lb at Fred Meyer (limit w/coupon), the week of September 16, last year.

Your best price on butter will almost always be a loss-leader item, probably with purchase limits (unless you have a wholesaler in which to shop, as I do, or an Aldi's). To maximize what you are allowed to buy, within the limits, remember that each time you shop at a store in the week something is advertised, you are a "new" customer. You are allowed to buy the limited item, again, in that same week, unless the wording of the ad says something to the effect of "limit 1 per family/household" -- very, very rare, though. (If a store with an advertised item has a limit and I want more, I make a point to stop in as often as I can, bringing as many family members as I can with me.) In our family, I send each adult family member through the line with the limited amount. I wouldn't do this with young kids, as that doesn't "feel" right to me. But with my adult kids, it's plausible that they're at the age they could be living on their own, doing their own shopping and cooking. It's just that in our family, we allow our adult kids to live at home, in exchange for some rent. So, if you find butter as a loss-leader, maximize your purchase, enough to get you through till mid-November (US), or possibly early October (for Canada), and/or December, when the holiday baking sales will feature butter as loss-leaders, at least once in the season.

Right now (July and August) we're in a marketing lull with regards to butter as a loss-leader at supermarkets. The items you typically see in summer on loss-leader are things like hot dogs and other BBQ supplies.

Those are my thoughts on butter prices for the next several months. Does anyone have any other insights into prices on butter in the near future?

What you can do right now, to get you through to a good sale on butter:

  • use vegetable oil in baking/cooking, in place of butter
  • use fat alternatives, like pureed pumpkin, applesauce, bananas, in place of butter in baking
  • save meat fat, to use in cooking, in place of butter/oil
  • clarify pork fats, like bacon fat, to use in place of solid shortening in pie crusts and blended with butter in flavorful cookies (like peanut butter cookies) *more on clarifying bacon fat at the bottom of post
  • make your own soft butter for table use, using 3 parts butter to 1 part vegetable oil

Clarifying bacon fat to use in baking

I have done this a couple of times. It's an age-old method for removing the smokey flavors from bacon fat. I've never done this with other fats, but I assume it would as well.

Pour melted bacon fat into a saucepan. Add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Once cooled, chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes, until the fat hardens on top of the liquid. Drain off the dirty water. Add 2 cups of clean water, and repeat the simmering for 5 minutes. Do this 3 or 4 times. The water will become clearer  and the fat will be milder in flavor, with each boiling.

After the final simmering, chilling and draining, remove the bacon fat to a container to save in the fridge until use in baking. 

I used this in pie pastry (in place of lard/shortening) and cookies (blended half and half with butter). We thought it was acceptable enough. It is time-consuming, but is something you can do in the kitchen while other prep work is going on. And it will spare you some money spent on butter. I originally did this as a "pioneer" lesson while homeschooling my kids. It was one of those "let's see if this really works" sort of lessons. Fun times!

Not to rub salt into your wound, but boy am I ever glad I decided to buy that case of 30-lbs of butter this past winter when butter prices dropped to about $1.67/lb at Cash & Carry. I was on the fence whether to just buy enough for a couple of months or to go for it and buy the case. But I based my decision on this -- December at Cash & Carry saw their "holiday" sale on butter priced at about $1.84/lb. So, in January, when the price was almost 20 cents less than what had been already a "good" price, that swayed me. Cash & Carry's sale prices are for the most part steady, staying the same price point for several seasons. Except, every once in a while they have a stupendously low price for an item. (Last fall, we bought several #10 cans of pureed pumpkin for a pittance on one of these extremely rare sales.)


  1. You got me thinking. Non-clarified bacon fat in a quiche crust. Now that could be good. :)

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Bacon fat, as is, also works well in cornbread. And ham fat could be used in a savory pie crust or cornbread, as well, I would think. Yum!

    2. Well, of course, you can't make cornbread unless there is bacon fat in the bottom of your iron skillet. At least not where I come from. Yum.

    3. Live and learn,
      Sadly, I didn't grow up where bacon fat would be in the bottom of the pan for cornbread. Boo hoo! I was a deprived child. I also had never tasted biscuits and gravy until well into my adults years.

  2. Thanks for the awesome analysis and understanding of the market forces that come into play..and how we could interpret global supply and demand to tlocal price trends at home. A look at commodity prices for various food items could foretell price trends too perhaps. Also for us stuck in the middle of the Pacific, shipping and oil prices impact store pricing, along with labor costs. I guess at least knowing which way prices might go and when the lows may occur should help us decide how much to buy at any given time. I've never thought it through as you have...buying for your household is not any different than being a buyer for the grocery store. Excellent use of your free time IMHO, like doing your own taxes, it may be overkill to learn so much about taxes to do your own return, but the savings repeat year after year, day after day in the case of grocery shopping, so the dividends are huge.


    1. Hi YHF,
      The way I look at it, this is all part of my job as the one who maximizes our income. And I feel especially blessed to be living in a time when we have resources like the very latest gov't reports, at our fingertips, with the internet.

      Your situation is somewhat unique. In many ways, Hawaii is its own little economy, removed from the rest of the US. The Avian flu may not have as much of an impact on your egg prices, if your eggs are locally raised. But your supply/demand is tighter. If more land, there, gets developed into housing/resorts, there's less land for farming, tightening up your supply and raising prices. And if there is a climate-related shortage, you can't just reach across the border into another state, the way the states on the continent can.

      But it sounds like you're doing a great job in managing your limitations of living in Hawaii.

  3. Wow, Lili, your brain works in ways that mine doesn't (and that's a good thing!). I'm more likely to stock up on baking items around Christmas when it's cheapest at Aldi (I don't remember the exact price point, but I'm thinking it was $1.89/pound at that time--I recently bought 1 pound at our local grocer for $2.50/pound on sale, which is cheaper than Aldi's current prices). For cookies, I typically use either butter or shortening (although I do have some coconut oil on hand that I need to use more often!) and I use oil for baked goods that I bake in some sort of pan with sides to it (cookies spread, so I need a more solid fat for those, but muffins/breads/cakes don't). My pie crust recipe uses oil, not butter or shortening. And, to make my baked goods lighter, I often sub in a fruit puree, as you mentioned, above. I'm not sure I would even know where to start for figuring out the rise and fall of dairy prices--that's why you are my friend, so you can figure it out for me! :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      I thought I remembered you saying you'd bought butter at a good price at Aldi. That $1.89/lb was a great price for last Christmas. That's a good plan to stock up during the holiday baking season.

      I made cookies, once with oil, and while they were okay, they kept oozing oil for days. I kept them on sheets of brown paper, and with each passing day, the paper became more and more saturated with the oil. I bet, though, there is a way to use oil or particular recipes for cookies with oil that turn out well.

      I'm happy to be your friend for whatever reason, Kris!!

  4. I also bought butter at Aldi when it was also $1.86/#. I think I bought 15 lbs, and still have a bit left. I make softened butter and use it for everything except when baking. It really stretches my butter much further, and since it was my practice to purchase softened butter with oil in the market anyway, there was no adjustment needed (except to do a happy-dance over the reduced cost to make it myself!!). My husband does grumble occasionally about all the butter in the freezer, but I point out the current retail cost in the store, and that is a good reminder of the value of my frugal ways. We have had a significant loss of income (-60%) due to my husband's stroke in February, so every saving opportunity I can find is valuable. Thanks again for your thoughtful analyses!

    1. Hi Valarie,
      First off, I didn't realize your husband suffered a stroke this past year. I am so sorry for you. The worry and stress must be enormous. My prayers for his continued improvement and recovery.

      We go through the same thing with what appears to be a surplus of some foods in the house. Because it looks like we have so much of something, why not use it freely? I have to remind everyone that in order to make everything last until the next sale, we do need to be prudent with our use. And I've even had to resort to "hiding" some foods. Otherwise, they wouldn't be available when we all wanted something special. I hate feeling like I may be seen as a miser to my family. But doing what I do, and how I do it, is the way for us to meet our financial responsibilities.

      I'm so glad you were able to stock up so well when butter was such a good price at Aldi! And smart of you to buy 15 lbs (and making that 15 go further by making your own soft butter). It's just the two of you in your household, right? 15 lbs can stretch quite a long time for 2 people. (Like my 30-lb purchase for 5 of us.)


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