Croissants Dry Up Amid French Butter Shortage

By Alexander Dombrowski and Nimra Noor, International Business Writers

For months, bakers, farmers, and food producers have given signs regarding the scarcity of butter in France. However, the beginning of November marks the worst shortage of butter since the Second World War, as the supermarkets are unable to stock shelves with the dairy product. This crisis has left French citizens exclaiming, “I can’t believe there’s no butter!”

Butter is vanishing from store shelves across France; one of the main culinary capitals of the world and the largest consumer of butter per capita. Supermarkets across the country are facing increased demand and diminishing supply causing them to be unable to meet, on average, 30 percent of butter demands by consumers. Some areas of the country are reporting as high as 46 percent unfulfilled demand. In a nation famed for its buttery croissants, the sudden disappearance of the country’s primary dairy product is a significant cause for concern.

Around the world, butter production and dairy yields have fallen off after a strong first couple of years this decade. New Zealand, the world’s largest butter exporter, has reported 11 percent fewer exports than this time last year, citing droughts that have affected the country’s dairy production. Additionally, 2016 was a slow year for French suppliers producing animal feed and other necessary crops for butter manufacturing; this trend is also likely to continue through 2017.

In France itself, there has been a 5 percent increase in the consumption of butter since past two years, according to a recent report by France’s dairy industry. This has led to a significant spark in butter prices from $2600 a ton in April 2016 to $8000 a ton in September 2017. As it is only France who has seen such striking shortages, Thierry Roquefeuil, chairman of the milk-producers’ federation FNPL, says, “The issue is purely French and is related to the fact that there’s a price war raging between French retailers.” This existing tension between the retailers and their suppliers have brought about the absence of a key ingredient used in French baked goods.

Whereas the shortages are understated by France’s Food Retailers’ Federation as a temporary logistical issue, the problem is currently being raised on the floor of the French parliament. The Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert sounded optimistic to find a deal between retailers and dairy producers. “I want to reassure all the consumers that soon butter will find its way back to shop shelves and consumers won’t be deprived of this French commodity that does honor to French tables and is the pride of French dairy production,” Travert said in the National Assembly.

The European Union’s decision to eliminate milk quotas in 2015 caused a flood of producers into the dairy market looking to meet increasing demand. However, this rush drove dairy prices down, causing many firms to shut down as they found it difficult to compete.

France’s system of setting the prices on commodities like dairy is inflexible relative to their European counterparts. Prices are set yearly at a meeting between producers and retailers every February. This year, production was forecast to be once again high. Thus, prices were set low.

Although the crisis has had a serious effect on the baking operations and sales, some have taken to the internet to either laugh at or cash in on the situation. In the west-coast province of Brittany, one person was seen advertising a block of butter for 250 Euros online, according to Le Figaro, while another was seen gleefully posting pictures on Twitter of packets of butter, saying “My refrigerator is now as valuable as the Bank of France.” One of the more daring attempts at making a profit came from a French man who offered up a piece of buttered toast online for 5 Euros.


A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 7th print edition.

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