Europe Is Experiencing a Butter Shortage and Bakers Say It's a 'Major Crisis'

Fresh butter on chopping board, close-up

With the demand for real butter at its highest point in years and a 98 percent decline in milk inventories in the European Union and United Kingdom, there are serious concerns that there may not be enough cream and milk to go around for Christmas.

The problem began with the 2014 Russian embargo of European food items (note that 24 percent of the EU’s butter exports went to Russia), which resulted in the price of bottled water being higher than a bottle of milk across much of the continent. European dairy farmers reacted by producing far less milk than they normally would, but the demand for butter, milk, and other dairy products continued to rise.

It’s likely that global demand for butter will rise about 3 percent this year, partially due to the emerging trend of shunning margarine and butter substitutes for the real deal. Even China, which imports the vast majority of their dairy products from New Zealand and Europe, is slated to consume 38 percent more milk in 2017. With a milk shortage already gripping the EU, it’s a good time to be a dairy farmer in New Zealand.

What does this mean for the average European diet? For starters, the price of butter itself has risen 20 percent since June 2016, and the prices for food items containing dairy, including pastries, croissants, and cakes, will likely increase by fall, and shortages of milk and butter are to be expected in the months ahead.

The Federation des Entrepreneurs de la Boulangerie, a group representing French bakers, commented on the severity of the butter shortage:

The price of butter, while certainly volatile, has never reached such a level before. Butter shortages appear to be a real threat by the end of the year.

Although a “butter shortage” might sound a little silly on its surface, the average European consumed 8.4 pounds of butter in 2015, while the average American ate 5.6 pounds. Buttery baked goods are a popular dietary staple for many Europeans, and it’s sad to hear that milk could be a rare commodity by the time Christmas rolls around.