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Sweden battles national butter shortage

Sweden battles national butter shortage

Published: 28 Sep 2011 15:40 GMT+02:00
Updated: 28 Sep 2011 15:40 GMT+02:00

As Sweden's butter shortage enters its second month, the dairy industry is still struggling to meet demand and shelves in supermarkets up and down the country remain empty. Blame is being directed at the new back to basics cooking trend, full fat diet fads and young people turning their backs on farming.

”There are two obvious trends at the same time. On the one hand, demand for butter and cream is rising and on the other, production has been declining for the last few years,” Claes Henriksson of Swedish dairy giant Arla told The Local.

Swedish TV-chef Leila Lindholm, known for her flamboyant flans and cute cupcakes, was one of the celebrity cooks whose cookery advice was recently singled by Swedish daily Aftonbladet and British newspaper The Guardian as a reason for the shortage.

”It is very flattering that they should think that I have that much influence on the Swedish public, but I think it is slightly exaggerated,” Lindholm told The Local.

According to Lindholm there are many reasons why Swedes are choosing full fat products rather than the light varieties.

”Light products are not in vogue at the moment, people are going back to basics when they cook and bake today,” Lindholm said.

Also, she added, many diets such as LCHF (low-carb high-fat) are also advocating the use of real butter instead of margarine and other light products, at the same time as there are fewer dairy farmers producing these products in Sweden.

”There have to be farmers producing dairy products for it to be available to consumers,” she said.

Lindholmn said that if she was not able to get hold of any butter she would probably use margarine – but only if she had to.

”The alternative is using margarine and it simply doesn't taste as nice. I guess it would all depend on how desperate the situation was,” she said.

But according to Claes Henriksson at Arla there is light at the end of the tunnel.

”We think we have found a solution to the problem. By importing cream from Denmark and using it in other products we free up enough Swedish cream to produce our Swedish butter,” he said.

Arla has identified the problem as demand rising while supply is diminishing.

He added that milk production also varies depending on season – cows simply don't have as much milk in the summer.

However, with the new strategy in place, Henriksson predicted that the situation should be back to normal again in about 3-4 weeks.

In the meantime, consumers can't be sure that they won't be met with empty shelves.

”We're putting up new notices every day explaining the situation,” one supermarket manager from Stockholm told The Local.

The supply situation for Swedish supermarkets is varying from day to day, and shop to shop, and is proving difficult for stores to predict.

”We have certainly felt the butter shortage but today we have a lot of butter on the shelves,” the manager said.

He was confident the situation will improve after speaking with a supplier who promised more butter coming in from the south of Sweden.

”It would have been a bigger blow to us, had it not affected all supermarkets,” he said.

Leila Lindholm says she hadn't noticed the butter shortage in Sweden prior to the story in Aftonbladet.

”No, I had no idea. And I buy my butter in the supermarket, just like everyone else,” she told The Local.

Rebecca Martin (rebecca.martin@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:31 September 28, 2011 by Rick Methven
"Arla has identified the problem as demand rising while supply is diminishing."

What Arla does not mention is that they have used their monopoly situation to force down the price they pay to farmers so that they have switched from dairy farming to meat or arable farming.

The real reason for a shortage of milk for making butter. is the greed of Arla
16:38 September 28, 2011 by vijinho
I would say use olive-oil where possible, it's healthier.
16:40 September 28, 2011 by jan.petras
This is interesting, while Eastern Europe just gets better and better, Sweden now faces problems of the 1980's of Eastern Europe.
16:47 September 28, 2011 by neoz717
@ Rick

o.O Are you really blaming a company that is offering one of tge cheapest Milk in Sweden. Monopoly ? Do you know the definition of Monopoly ? Monopoly is what Systembolaget is not Arla, Arla has competitors in the field, so you are sadly mistaken. And other then that, Greed ? ... I think you need to read a business book what you are talking about is prisledare in Swedish, it basically means that their business strategy would be to be the cheapest in the Market nothing wrong or illegal about that.
17:04 September 28, 2011 by skogsbo
Neo, Arla may not have an outright monopoly nationally, but in some areas there are no other buyers for the milk, every town, kommun etc does not have 3 or 4 dairy producers all fighting over who gets the farmers milk. Often the Arla will be putting a take it leave it price out there for farmers, it's no skin off Arla nose if they don't get a much milk, they certainly won't pay more for it, as this would narrow their margins. So yes in many regions it is a Monopoly.

Even with EU grants which are available for normal and organic dairy unit, it costs alot of money to fit out a dairy farm and you neeed an economy of scale, most small Swedish farms nestled in little pockets of forest just can do it, with 10-20 hectares.

The biggest problems is the consumer being unwilling to pay more for the product and not appreciating where it comes from and how little the producer ie the farmer actually gets, it's certainly alot less than Arla / ICA etc.. If the moaning public paid more, there wouldn't be any shortage.

thanks for reading, Skogsbo (worked on a dairy farm in the UK long ago, now have cattle for beef and forest here, with no intention of even considering dairy!!).
18:21 September 28, 2011 by rouzi
It was completely predictable and I think the situation is going to get worse and worse in Sweden for agriculture products. There are lot of pressures on farmers in Sweden about environmental issues, stocking rate, animal welfare and when one looks to the laws in Sweden may find them unreasonably though . On the other hand dairy industry likewise many other industries in Sweden is exclusive. Big big big mafia system which do not let any other competitor to work in parallel. I had the chance to be in academic area in the field of agriculture as well. I have to say the situation is not good at all. In fact most experts in universities are so proud that do not want to confess to wrong government policies toward agriculture. What I most often heard in academic area was that Sweden is the best or trying to somehow convince that the things which are going on in Sweden is completely normal and it is the way should be . In the other words, i have to say sadly, they are lying to students.
18:47 September 28, 2011 by neoz717
@ skogsbo

Thank you for your reply it actually was an interesting read, I am not sure about the prices and stuff but I would love some insight as i actually am studying in the field of Business would be interested to know more any links or info you could supply is most welcomed thank you for taking your time to reply =D
19:18 September 28, 2011 by bjorkon
Oh my yasuss lord. I am quivvering here.

Why not put up the price?

And then while you're about it start importing some nouveaux products from the rest of Europe or even the world!

I for one would just love to but some butter that comes from France, the UK, Spain, anywhere in fact. It seems most places only stock Arla products. And dont get me started on Tetra-pakI would like to buy 2 4 or even 6 litres of milk/filmjolk/other at a time.
21:02 September 28, 2011 by skumdum
I blame the EU.
21:32 September 28, 2011 by skogsbo
don't get me started on tetra pak, either have purely plastic container or cardboard, but don't use a tetra pak - then slap a plastic cap on it, it's a recycling disaster!

On Arla products, I think it's fairly likely there is a deal between the likes of Ica and Arla, that or one cheif exec, has moved from another and they are helping each other out. Ica is good for somethings do flex and stock local, then other things it is zero variety.

Yes, bjorkon, just put the price up I agree, that's supply and demand, how it should work. The shop will gain though, not the end user.

Neoz717, I will post some stuff at weekend, too much on. If you want a curious story google Wensleydale creamery, the local farmers bought it out years ago, because of the milk monopoly issues and now most local milk goes there and they make shed loads of Cheeeesssseeee (wallace and gromit style), as well as creating lots of local jobs.
21:33 September 28, 2011 by Tysknaden
I blame the EU, too.
21:35 September 28, 2011 by martiancat
Milko all the way!
21:40 September 28, 2011 by Kstock
Now we will have another wave of Swedish families immigrating to the U.S. due to the great butter drought of 2011. Imagine kneckebrod without butter!

On the other hand we should not let the Swedes immigrate to the U.S. we should ship some of America's fat cows to Sweden. We could drop them with parachutes strapped to their backs, let the military C-17 fly low and send the fat cows out the back sprinkling the dairy field below. I can see it now all the pink utters dotting the sky. This of course will also help trans-Atlantic relations and that whole spying thing will be forgotten. Remember you heard it here first on The Local!
23:19 September 28, 2011 by Tysknaden
@Kstock: "Project Milkyway" :-)
00:11 September 29, 2011 by Beavis
Pathetic, the same company Arla is exporting Danish butter and has excess.. simple solution if they want it sell real butter from places as far away as DEnmark and Norway..they sell a far superior product anyway!
03:42 September 29, 2011 by SayNoToUS
Was Paula Dean in Sverige recently to do a cooking show for the Food Network?
08:06 September 29, 2011 by karex
So Kstock are you suggesting that they do the same with cows that Monsanto does with their genetically modified seeds and then they wait a while for the seeds to take over and turn around and sue the farmer for copyright (or whatever it's called with products) violation because the farmer is now using patented technology but without his knowledge or even consent? Scary...

Besides I think then we would be importing the American obesity disease to Sweden. I have this sneaky feeling that all the chemicals the cattle industry pumps into the animals in the US (such as growth hormones for instance) just continue to work on people's bodies after they have consumed the products.

But your suggestion is funny anyway :)
10:08 September 29, 2011 by Kstock
@Karex

hmmmm...you have a point there. I would think, NO, this would be an elit team of harden free range cows, who would be trained in the Buddhist ways of the natural being. Yeah, it couldn't be a chemical-cow it would have to be the utter ones.
10:49 September 29, 2011 by Rick Methven
@neoz717

Arla is the 7th biggest dairy company in the world, by far the biggest in Scandinavia and in the UK as it owns Express dairies. It does use it's buying power and near monopolistic position to force farmers to sell milk cheap. Like Skogsbo, I come from a farming family and grew up on a dairy farm in the UK and I am well aware of the practices employed by Arla and others like them. The fact is that a lot of milk, especially from small producers , is being sold below cost.

While the general public accept that food prices have risen because of poor harvests and increased demand, they still expect to pay the same price for milk as they did 10 years ago. Cows do not only need grass to produce milk but cow cake and other feed which is increasing in cost all the time. Milk products are a good source of nutrients that are essential for health.

If the dairy companies do not stop pandering to the pressure from consumers and supermarkets to keep the end price low, more and more farmers will leave dairy farming and we will have less and less butter, cream and other natural products available.
16:11 September 29, 2011 by soultraveler3
Rick is right in his first comment.

It's convenient for Arla to blame fad diets and tv shows, instead of owning up to the fact that they're screwing over farmers to the point of them not being able to profit from making butter anymore.
22:07 September 29, 2011 by JoeE
What a great article to read! People are waking up and want real food again. This isn't happening just in Sweden either, across most of the first world countries. The lipid hypothesis of saturated fats causing heart disease is fast becoming disproved.

One of the benefits on a social level is the fact that dairies are still mostly run by small farmers and are grass based, which is very sustainable and one can run independantly. Now if only we can get people to skip the middle man and get their products directly from the farm and small producers! The price wouldn't necessarily go up, it would just go to the farmers and their products. Take pride in your local food economy! Support your local farmers! Go grass based dairy!
06:43 October 5, 2011 by brianofcanada
I don't understand. Arla can buy Danish milk and sell butter on at a profit to the Brit's but they're boycotting your own farmers and you for price or control reasons and you allow them to be a monopoly. It doesn't sound like they are giving you the same price as they give/dump on the Brits.
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