Butter is back: Margarine giant admits defeat in the battle of the spreads

Margarine makers have an unusual response to  our renewed taste for butter

It spent decades in the nutritional wilderness, blamed for heart disease, high cholesterol, and making people fat. But butter is back – and if you don’t believe us, ask the consumer goods colossus Unilever.

Billion-pound brands such as Flora have been at the heart of the Anglo-Dutch giant since its inception nearly a century ago. But the appetite for margarine seems to be melting around the world, forcing Unilever to admit defeat in the war against butter.

Last autumn, the company added butter to one of its spreads for the first time. Last week, Unilever said the move was paying off: although margarine sales were still down during its fourth quarter, shoppers in Germany had “responded  positively” to the new-taste, “butter-based” Rama.

And this from a company whose head of foods, Antoine Bernard de Saint-Affrique, said in 2010, “Some people say it’s bread and butter, but here we say ‘bread and margarine’.”

Where British chefs aren’t making their own butter, they are buying it direct from artisan butter makers such as Abernethy Butter, based in Co Down, Northern Ireland.

“We can’t make it quickly enough. We make 600 rolls a day. It’s 1pm and I’ve got three left,” said Allison Abernethy. “It’s very time consuming and labour intensive, so many chefs find it easier to buy from us.” Abernethy’s fans include Heston Blumenthal and Marcus Wareing, who buy it for the flavour: the cream comes from grass-fed cows and contains something known as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been found to have anti-cancer properties.

Robin Gill, who owns The Dairy restaurant in south London, makes his own butter, showcasing his efforts by serving bread with a choice of butters as a separate course on the tasting menu. “We don’t want butter – and bread – to be an afterthought, so we make a bit of a celebration.” Made with anything from seaweed to smoked bone marrow, his butters have proved so popular that the restaurant’s customers often ask if they can buy them to take home.

“It’s almost a hindrance,” he added. “You create all these great dishes and people just go on about the bread and butter.” He says he was inspired to make his own after travelling around Scandinavia.

Shoppers too are backing butter. Figures from the research company Kantar Worldpanel show that sales of butter rose 7 per cent by volume in the five years to January 2014, to 141 million kg. That compared with a 6 per cent fall in volumes of margarine over the same period, although that market is still far bigger, at 271 million per kg. In retail terms, butter has done even better, with rising milk prices pushing up the cost of each block, making the market in the 12 months to January 2014 worth some £683m.

Amy Price, an analyst at the market research firm Mintel, said that the changing perceptions of butter played a role in its resurgence: “The recent trend is very much driven by its more natural positioning.” A  recent Mintel report on the spreads market found that 39 per cent of people agreed that butter was “more healthy” than margarine because it’s more natural.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing