Verboven: Butter-gate

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It’s hard to believe the mental torment the Canadian consumer has had to endure over the past year.

First, it was the terrifying panic of a toilet paper shortage, and now, even worse, the heartbreak of hard butter is bedevilling flustered consumers. What used to be a minor annoyance during colder weather has now blown up into a national food calamity that has gripped the very soul of being Canadian. You know it’s a national disaster when morning TV news show announcers become frenzied over this insufferable hardship.

To be fair, I suspect most consumers had no idea that soft butter was of such critical importance to the contentment of western civilization.

It gets worse: many Canadians thought milk came from dairy cows, but now they are told milk comes from palm oil and buying it will destroy the planet’s rainforest and decimate the habitat of orangutans.

Who knew that buttering toast was now a politically charged act with worldwide moral implications? What’s a flabbergasted consumer to do, who do you believe, what do you buy, and where is PM Trudeau when we really need his inspired governance?

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After all, he did such an expert job resolving the vaccine shortage. He should immediately order 100 million bricks of palm fat-free butter to be delivered to every Canadian citizen that wants one by June. It would highlight Trudeau’s decisive leadership style in resolving the most critical national food security controversy ever to face Canada.

But, even more important, it would pour millions of extra federal tax dollars into Quebec, where most of the Canadian dairy industry is located. That could be the tipping point for Liberals to win the next federal election.

Consumers do have a choice to overcome their unbearable fear of hard butter. Spreadable butter does exist; it comes under artisan labels or is mixed with margarine.

Ironically, it seems better dairy cow feeding practices, better feed ingredients, and better processing have made today’s regular butter a denser, higher quality product, particularly for cooking and baking. One supposes that to return to the spreadable type of butter so lamented by newly nostalgic consumers, butter needs to become the less dense lower-quality product of the good old days.

However, there is a better way to overcome this catastrophic national loss of butter softness entitlement. Rather than go to the futile effort of explaining butter hardness, real or imagined, to consumers who expect instant gratification to their whims, the dairy industry should see this tragedy as a new butter marketing opportunity.

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They need to begin marketing certified palm fat-free butter, add canola oil to butter to make it spreadable, and then charge a hefty price premium. Gullible consumers will be lining up to buy this new, perceived-to-be-softer, but especially politically-correct butter. It’s a win-win-win for everyone.

Butter marketers need to learn from the egg industry’s brilliant marketing strategy. The egg industry exploited consumer naivete long ago when they diversified the marketing of the simple egg. Rather than offer only a safe, nutritious and low-cost white egg, the industry realized they could make a lot more money selling organic, free-range, cage-free, socially-aware, serenity-blessed brown eggs at twice the price to unsuspecting consumers. Isn’t marketing wonderful? It makes everything feel so much better.

I suspect the hard butter crisis will soften as summer approaches, sort of like how global warming disappears as a human fixation when winter sets in.

But a new ominous threat to our mental well being is arising; toast is getting darker! It’s all because cunning farmers, unbeknownst to innocent consumers and with not a shred of social license, are hurriedly harvesting bread-making wheat at night. You heard it here first.

Well, at least we can still count on Alberta potato chips being as crispy as ever — or will they begin to suffer from the dreaded soft chip syndrome? I jest, of course.

Will Verboven is an agriculture opinion writer.

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