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History of Natural Butter Substitutes in the United States

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Butter has been seen in human diets for well over four thousand years and is considered a staple of society. Clarified butter – which is butter that is melted and reduced to its butterfat – has been a symbol of purity in India for several millenniums, and butter has been a cornerstone in French cooking since its discovery. It wasn’t until the 18th century that margarine was introduced into the human diet as an affordable substitute for butter. Margarine was invented in 1869 by a French chemist by the name of Hippolyte Mege-Mouries after the emperor Napoleon called for such a substitute to be produced for consumption by the lower-class and the armed forces.

Margarine was brought to the United States in the 1870s, much to the appeasement of the poorer class, and to the fear of American dairy farmers. Ten years after arriving in the US, over thirty companies began manufacturing margarine as an affordable alternative to butter, and the margarine and butter wars began as butter manufacturers tried to compete with the cheaper alternatives now on the market. Because of the battle of the butters, dairy lobbyists in the 1880s attempted to phase out margarine by forcing an outrageous tax bill on margarine and making the licensing fees to produce margarine prohibitively expensive, and some states even banned the production and sale of margarine in state lines altogether. Color bans were introduced in the states that did allow margarine to distinguish it from real butter, and it was required to be an unappealing pinkish color. It was not until the early 1980’s that the color bans were lifted.

It was during the era of the Great Depression and World War II that margarine became a major seller, despite the opposition to its “unnatural” characteristics. Sales began to far surpass those of traditional butter, and the refinement process for margarine was changed. Margarines were produced from hydrogenated vegetable oils instead of animal fats. Margarine really received a leg up in the competition when Eleanor Roosevelt promoted the great taste of the butter alternative on a television commercial in 1959, and by the early 1970’s margarine was being consumed by Americans at a rate of about ten pounds per person per year, far surpassing the consumption of real butter.

In later years, however, butter has climbed back to the top as the preferred spread in America. This is because of the upward trend in health-conscious individuals, particularly since the coming of age of the Millennial generation. Studies have determined that from a health standpoint, the saturated fats in pure butter are much less harmful than the trans fats and additives found in margarine.

Butter made a comeback as the most popular spread until the advent of new and improved vegan buttery spreads. Though butter is still the number one choice amongst the masses, vegan buttery alternatives have claimed a share of the spreads market by offering dairy-free, gluten-free, and all-natural alternatives to real butter. The first company to release a butter alternative that was exempt of hydrogenated oils – which are the major source of trans fats – was Smart Balance in 1997, with the release of their Smart Balance buttery spread line. As the product became increasingly popular, they began to release several different spreads, including nut butters and different varieties of their original buttery spread. Eventually, Smart Balance released lines of snack foods, as well. In 2014, Smart Balance switched all its spreads and products to use non-genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s), thus leading to all-natural products.

In 1998, Earth Balance launched as a sister company to the newly popular Smart Balance. Much like Smart Balance, Earth Balance began with just a single product – their all-natural, original buttery spread. Earth Balance’s spread is made from a variety of expeller-pressed, plant-based oils and is completely dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan. In a matter of just a few years, Earth Balance became the United States’ best-selling and most popular vegan buttery spread. Earth Balance added a wider selection of spreads to their product line, and even expanded into the snack food and baking sector with a variety of products.

Earth Balance is a division of the publicly traded Boulder Brands company that is based in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder Brands trades on the NY Stock Exchange under the symbol BDBD. Boulder Brands expanded into international markets in 2013 when it acquired the United Kingdom-based bakery, Davie’s Bakery, which specializes in gluten free baked goods. In late 2015 Boulder brands was bought out by the publicly traded company, Pinnacle Foods, Inc. , whose stock symbol is PF. N. Pinnacle purchased Boulder Brands and their assets for a sum of $710 million in an effort to expand their own health and wellness product offerings. Pinnacle Foods, Inc. is most commonly recognized as the parent company behind products such as the frozen Hungry Man entrees and Bird’s Eye frozen vegetables, and Boulder brands would allow them to grow their natural foods and frozen markets. In 2013, Pinnacle Foods, Inc. also acquired Wishbone Salad Dressings and Canadian-based protein food producer Garden Protein. This gives Pinnacle Foods a total of three international markets, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

According to the NASDAQ, Pinnacle Foods, Inc. is on an upward trend in growth, especially after its most recent acquisition of Boulder brands. Investors have seen an overall 13 percent growth in the company’s stocks over the last ten years. Marketwatch. com shows that Pinnacle foods currently has roughly 120 million outstanding shares of stock that sit at $63 each. Shareholders have seen a dividend of $0. 33 per share held, and their profit continues to rise even as sales decline slightly. In June of 2018, the frozen foods giant ConAgra announced that it would be purchasing Pinnacle Foods, Inc for an estimated $8. 1 billion, as the large company continues to expand its market share in the packaged foods industry. The acquisition would place ConAgra at the second largest frozen food producer in the United States, with Nestle being the first. The deal would help ConAgra reduce distribution costs, which puts them in a better position to satisfy the want of lower prices by ConAgra’s retailers. The deal set to finalize by the end of the 2018 calendar year.

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