The Scandinavian craving for … butter!

butterSwedish butter wasn’t easy to find on the on supermarket shelves during the autumn. Photo: Tobias Myrstrand Leander (CC: BY NC SA)

By now a lot of people in the world have heard – and laughed about – Norway’s butter shortage, covered in many international media. One of the best ones is The Colbert Report, making fun of it all. Which Swedes tend to appreciate a lot, as long as the joke is at Norway’s expence…

During the period leading up to Christmas (with all ts baking of buttery cookies and buns), we have seen our Scandinavian neighbours in the West becoming increasingly desperate for the dairy fat, with prices as high as about 100 Euros per kilo butter and people trying to smuggle large quantities of butter to Norway from Sweden, hoping to sell it on the black butter market.

We may be laughing heartily at this here in Sweden, but the (maybe internationally less known) truth is that Sweden had its very own butter shortage during the autumn. In September and October, dairy shelves in many parts of the country suddenly stood empty, with signs saying “Butter shortage because of lack of primary products”.

The reason behind this sudden hole in the Swedish butter basket has been said to be a declining national milk production, together with the “low carbohydrate high fat” (LCHF) diet trend, which has boosted the consumption of fat dairy products. Another clue might be that the main dairy company in Sweden, Arla, started paying farmers less for their milk in September (article in Swedish, autotranslated here)

Now the Swedish butter shortage is said to be solved, by a higher import of milk as primary ingredient for other dairy products. But there are of course questions to be put after this autumn. Swedes are among the highest consumers of milk per person in the world (Number 4, after Finland, Iceland and Ireland.) We’re also number 9 in the EU when it comes to eating cheese. Shouldn’t we be able to be selfsufficient on these products? Or are we maybe eating too much of it, considering that milk production has quite a large climate and environmental footprint?

Photo: Kicki (CC: BY NC ND)

  • Ncl

    The ‘LC’ in LCHF stands for low carbohydrate, not low carbon…

  • Sara Jeswani

    Thanks, you’re so right. Maybe my climate interest that manifests itself again… Now corrected!

  • Victor V

    How do you reconcile the fact that the organisation called “the state” to which you turn for solutions to environmental problems, is the biggest skewer of incentives, and misallocator of human capital and resources, the world has ever known? You might as well turn to the mafia for protection…

    The biggest environmental contributions has always been made by entrepreneurs, which present revolutionising and efficient new methods and products. All the state can do on the other hand, is point guns at people to extract resources, or to order them to do stuff.

    Your focus i fascistic and contra productive, and thus immoral as well as a squandering of resources.

  • Kristin Lund

    Thanks, Sara. I learned a lot from this post. :)

  • Sara Jeswani

    Thanks, Kristin, nice to hear!

  • Sara Jeswani

    Hi Victor,
    I can’t really see in what way this post turns to the state for solutions. Personally I think states, as well as entrepreneurs, can act both as a factor for improvement as well as worsening the situation. If we are to create a sustainable society, we will need all actors in society to work towards it. When it comes to the state, it’s supposed to be the representation of all us who live in a country. Then isn’t it also up to us all to try to influence state policies in the right direction?

  • Monica-USA

    I do find it very interesting that Sweden can’t produce enough milk products to make enough butter for its own Country. You would think that the Government would do what it could to provide enough farms, cows and so forth to keep Sweden’s addiction to dairy products going without having to outsource?!

  • Pol – Croatia

    The states seem not to do enough effort, indeed. They are primarily concerned with ensuring stability, which is also needed to sustain progress and wellbeing, although not enough only by itself. On the other hand enterpeneurship is generally mostly overrated, by omiting many unsuccessfull cases. And those that are succesfull may grow into capitalistic giants or selfinterest lobbies, that in fact directly or indirectly influence states to enter in conflicts, rather than take care of people which it should represent. But of course, taking initiatives for the common wellbeing is something else, although this may also be missinterpreted. However, if everybody would take care of common interests caring about everyone wellbeing that takes part of community, then all the partial interest should also be optimaly solved.

  • Sara Jeswani

    H Monica,
    As far as I know there hasn’t been any such discussion initiatied from the Government. Since one of the reasons for the butter shortage is that fewer and fewer people want to work as farmers, it’s part of a bigger problem: How are we to be as self-sufficient as possible on food when there aren’t enough producers left? On the other hand, maybe we should also discuss if we need to eat quite as much butter as we do…

  • Monica-USA

    Sorry Sara I am so used to my Government sticking their noses in every little thing here in America I just assumed it might be similar in Sweden. :o ) I would hope they would promote more opportunities for people to start dairy farms to help produce more dairy products. Good luck

  • Anonymous

    No, it’s a relevant question! I’m just not aware of any such plans, but it would be interesting to look more into it, especially as the current government wants to make Sweden the new “food country” (

  • Victor V

    I don’t really know what you’re saying here, but explain to me this;

    How is the state ensuring stability by misallocating human capital and resources into creating bubbles, such as in retail and housing, hindering the advances of innovation. How is it stable for the government to steal from the poor and the unborn through monetary inflation and public debt. How is it stable for the government to pass laws and regulations that no one can keep up with or abide, creating a Kafakesk world wherein long term investment becomes largely disencentivised? A world where interests groups and corporations lobby for free stuff, subsidies and favourable legislation to grow big and unaccountable, further increasing public debt and inflation. The state with its monopoly on violence is a opportunity for free evil – a gun that people wrestle for the control over. It thus pits people against eachother under the allure of short term gains, that’s all that politics and democracy is in practice – a struggle to not be the one, the gun of the state is pointing towards. Mao said it right in his famous quote, “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”.

    So I ask you again, how is this sustainable or stable in any way? It is the biggest squandering of resoruces imagineable, and the profession of every state on the globe – wasting lives and resources.

  • Mark Johnson

    Entertainment directly from Scandinavia as well as from many Scandinavian communities around the Midwest highlights the Ninth Annual Scandinavian Day Festival in South Elgin. Headlining the program is a popular folk music quartet from Norway, Aage Grundstad Ensemble, plus a local Norwegian folk dance group, Leikarringen Heimhug; the Nordic Folk Dancers of Chicago; and Scandinavian humorist and dialectician Steve Benson from Minneapolis. Festival-goers will also enjoy a presentation of various Scandinavian musical instruments.Bingo