What are substitutes for butter amid possible shortage?

What can you substitute for butter when grocery shelves are empty? Chefs offer substitutions. (Photo: Getty Creative)

What can you substitute for butter when grocery shelves are empty? Chefs offer substitutions. (Photo: Getty Creative)

The holidays are just around the corner, but one ingredient might be missing from your refrigerator. Like so many other items we’ve gone without in recent years, it appears it’s time for butter to become the “toilet paper” of the 2022 holiday season.

Why is there an impending butter shortage? Financial and trade experts give several reasons for this downturn in availability.

What’s causing the possible butter shortage?

Sal Stile is the founder and president of Alba Wheels Up International, a prominent international shipping and customs clearance company based in New York. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported there [was] 22% less butter in storage in October 2022 than there was in October 2021,” Stile tells Yahoo Life. “The big factor is that with rising feed costs and a persistent labor shortage, some dairy farmers got out of the business entirely, causing the [USDA] to consistently lower milk production estimates into 2023.”

While this is one part of the issue, other experts say labor shortages and transportation costs are to blame. “The dairy industry and its supply chain are not immune to labor shortages,” says Robert Alberghine, chief executive officer of Global Smart Commodity Group. “Coupled with logistical and transportation costs, it has impacted the production and movement of butter.”

Jennifer Onoja is senior category manager at KeHE Distributors, one of the largest fresh, natural, organic and specialty food distributors in the country. She says her clients have not been affected by the forecasted shortage yet.

“Starting in September, KeHE has proactively sent forecasts to the company’s supplier partners in preparation for demand spike and estimated shortage, which includes forecast projections for the holidays,” she says. “At this time, current suppliers have not expressed any issues.”

Businesses like Minerva Dairy in Minerva, Ohio, are also not seeing as many issues with the potential for a butter shortage. “Minerva Dairy is managing the butter shortage better than the industry standard,” says fifth-generation butter-maker Venae Watts. “We are filling orders, even as the holidays approach and supply chain issues tighten up across the industry.”

“While most butter-makers are feeling the stress on ingredient supply chains, Minerva Dairy sits in a unique situation being a cheese and butter creamery,” she explains. “Minerva Dairy produces cheese as an ingredient for food manufacturers and when the cheese is produced, the by-product is cream. Therefore, we have our own supply of ingredient for butter production.”

In the event of a shortage of your favorite brand, Watts suggests consumers try a different butter that might still fit their recipe. “Buy the butter you can find,” she says. “Consumers may see holes on the shelf, but not all butter will be gone.”

What to substitute for butter … if you can’t find any

Trevor Knotts, a corporate executive chef at Richmond Restaurant Group, says, “it’s easy for chefs to rely on butter as a crutch to make things delicious.”

“But something like a good quality extra virgin olive oil is a perfect example of there being alternative ways that are as good — or sometimes better and lighter — than butter to add fat and richness to a dish,” he adds.

Kai Chase, a personal chef who has worked with many famous clients, from Barack Obama to Steve Harvey, says she’s been recommending alternatives for years to clients looking to cut back on their butter consumption.

“One of my favorite substitutes is mashed avocado,” says Chase. “On top of being an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, it’s great for baking. Vegan raw coconut butter is another alternative that behaves like butter in most recipes, and it’s a great choice for those with dairy allergies.”

And you don’t have to substitute butter for another ingredient: On TikTok, users are purchasing hand churners to make their own butter or whipping up a homemade batch of butter in their stand mixers. Though a butter shortage may seem imminent, there are plenty of alternate options if one knows where to look … or how to churn their own.

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