ABI Approves of USDA’s Proposed Butter Testing Changes at Fall Meeting

The American Butter Institute’s (ABI) Board of Directors reviewed and approved a USDA proposal to allow for greater industry participation in butter testing at its fall conference in Phoenix, Oct. 5-6.

ABI, an industry group managed by NMPF, worked with NMPF regulatory staff to respond to an August proposal from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) that would allow butterfat tests to be performed at an in-house or approved third party laboratory, and add a requirement for plants to maintain and make such records available for examination by a USDA inspector. ABI’s response supported the amendment as a means of increasing butter processing efficiency that conforms to current industry practice. ABI’s members also sought further clarification from USDA about which tests will be reviewed, suggesting that only finished product tests should be considered.

ABI’s letter to USDA, signed by NMPF Chief Counsel Clay Detlefsen, who also works for ABI under the management arrangement, also proposed that butter manufacturers take the lead in performing grading services in their own facilities, following the procedures set forth by USDA. Under this new approach — also discussed at the fall conference by ABI’s board — USDA could then audit those records to ensure manufacturer compliance with USDA grading procedures and allow the finished goods to use the USDA grade shield.

ABI will continue to speak with USDA about how to shift more grading practices to member companies’ facilities.

Driving Interest From Butter Bombs to Cookies

By Christopher Galen, Executive Director, The American Butter Institute

In a year when dairy commodities have been hit hard by slumping prices, butter has remained at the head of the class, barely dipping below $2.50 per pound at the wholesale level and recently rebounding to $2.75 per pound heading into the holiday baking season. Part of the reason for the strong demand, even with high inflation over the past two years, has been the American Butter Institute’s consumer awareness campaign about the value of butter in so many uses.

Our “Go Bold With Butter” campaign — funded mostly through the national dairy checkoff — reminds consumers of how useful butter is compared to plant-based oils and spreads. It also offers new recipes and product use ideas, from butter boards to butter bombs. You’ve probably heard of butter boards; basically, they are party-ready charcuterie trays featuring softened butter rather than meats and cold cuts. Meanwhile, butter bombs are a social media-worthy creation of a hollow sphere of butter filled either with savory ingredients like herbs, which people can melt on a grilled steak, or sweet ingredients like cinnamon sugar, suitable for use on breakfast foods like pancakes.

We also recently started a new consumer education program we’re calling “Butter Bits.” These are digestible snippets of friendly education we are sharing on social media that highlight butter as the solution to everyday cooking and baking challenges. This series of videos will follow a problem-and-solution format in a fast-paced, engaging, and entertaining way.

Since we are approaching the prime Christmas cookie-baking season, one of our regular seasonal promotions is our recipe contest. Each fall, the contest invites consumers to submit as many original cookie recipes as they wish. The “Go Bold With Butter” experts narrow the field of entrants to a few dozen and then bake up a (baker’s) dozen of the finalists to determine the best of that year’s class. The contest is open from now until November 1, and the rules and entry requirements are at www.goboldwithbutter.com.

Butter has clearly won the hearts, minds, and stomachs of many consumers whose preference for real dairy over vegetable spreads in the past generation has forced competitors to start calling their margarines “vegan butter.” But we can’t rest on our laurels: The “Go Bold With Butter” campaign reminds us that even though retail butter prices may rise, the elevated value real butter offers is worth it.

This column originally appeared in Hoard’s Dairyman Intel on September 18, 2023.