Butter shortage takes the biscuit in Norway

Tue, Dec 20, 2011, 00:00

IN THE run-up to Christmas, Sweden is a shopping beacon for thrifty Norwegians. Alcohol and meat products commonly feature high on shopping lists. This year there is another, more basic addition on many lists: butter, and lots of it.

Droves of Norwegians have been heading over the Swedish border to buy the stuff. Some Swedish supermarkets are buttering up their Nordic neighbours by offering free butter to get them into stores.

Butter has been sparse on Norwegian supermarket shelves for weeks now. Word spreads quickly when it does appear, but disappears even sooner. Word has it that some Irish butter will become available in shops today.

The low butter output has been linked to Noway’s wet summer, which affected the quality of animal feed. Norwegian cows produced 20 million fewer litres of milk this year.

In addition, diets that are low in carbohydrate but high in butter, adopted by many Norwegians, have seen demand for butter soar.

Tine, Norway’s biggest dairy and a virtual monopoly, is largely being blamed for the crisis. It began posting notices in shops weeks ago apologising for the lack of butter, and says heightened demand is due to the low-carb diet. Demand for butter rose by 30 per cent in November.

Whatever the reason, the scarcity of butter has had a detrimental effect on the traditional baking of the seven kinds of buttery cakes and biscuits in the run-up to Christmas here.

Import tariffs have been cut from 25.19 Norwegian krone (€3.25) to 4 krone, but only for the month of December. The cheese producer, Synnoeve Finden, Tine’s only real competitor, has been allowed to import 300 tonnes of butter.

The problem for Prof Arne Nygaard, from the Norwegian Business School, is that Tine represents a virtual monopoly in the market.

“The business model with one dominant monopoly that both regulates imports and production is outdated and old-fashioned,” he said.

On the bright side, a tad less butter might even prove helpful in the battle to lose all those pounds post-Christmas.