The Economist

PARIS – Why the French are fretting over a sudden butter shortage

“IT’S A true catastrophe monsieur,” says a baker in central Paris as she places warm, flaky croissants in a paper bag. The price of local butter has more than doubled in the past year, she says: “We are used to costs going up, but this is really extreme.” Her pastry counter is well stocked, but margins per croissant are squeezed.

Elsewhere it is shortages that bite. In a nearby Carrefour supermarket, fridges that are usually crammed with packets of butter are mostly empty. Social-media users around France share photos of bare shelves using the tag #BeurreGate. A prankster on an online auction site offered to sell a slice of buttery toast. Press reports suggest that hoarding is under way. Because butter is essential for much local cuisine—the French eat more of it than anyone—talk of scarcity spreads dismay.

Various factors explain the current churn. Global appetite for dairy products is rising. “China has discovered croissants” notes Emmanuelle Auriole of the Toulouse School of Economics. Westerners fret that sugar is unhealthy but are relearning the joys of full-cream milk, cheese and butter. A global dairy-price index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation is up by 27% in a year. In Europe butter recently soldwhere – wholesale markets? ALG for a record 6,500 ($7,600) a tonne, says Bloomberg. Yet suppliers have responded slowly. Subsidy reforms and the end of production quotas for dairy farmers in 2015 led to the melting away of Europe’s butter mountain stockpiles. Bad weather in some places, and earlier price fluctuations, made it harder for producers to plan.