Spain is experiencing a curious increase in butter consumption and slight decline in olive oil use – trends attributed by some to financial crisis belt-tightening.

While butter sales in September were up 19.3 percent on August, those for cooking oils slipped.

ESADE business school marketing professor Gerard Costa says it’s because Spaniards are eating breakfast at home more often, instead of at cafes, and buying more butter to put on their toast.

“Spanish families are saving money…by spending less on leisure and in restaurants, which is one reason the consumption of butter has taken off. They’re eating breakfast at home and so buying more cereal and butter,” he told radio station Onda Cero.

It’s possibly also relevant that the average price of butter in Western Europe has fallen 6% year-on-year, following a downward global trend.

However, the overall volume of butter sales still remains small – just 1.1 million kilos were consumed in Spanish households in October, compared to 3.1 million kilos of margarine, and 37 million kilos of olive oil. That’s about 20g of butter, 70g of margarine and 810g of olive oil in a month for each of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants.

Nevertheless, it’s still a striking statistic that in the five years to 2009, butter consumption rose 51.3 percent – the only dairy good to show growth in Spain apart from cheese.

Olive oil use down in households, restaurants

Meanwile, according to a newly-released Spanish Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs (MARM) household food and beverage survey, consumption of olive oil was down 2.4 percent and sunflower oil down 5 percent year-on-year for the twelve months to the end of October. Overall food spending fell 1.8 percent.

This year, per capita household consumption of olive oil is 9.5 liters and sunflower oil 3.3 liters, compared to 9.8 and 3.5 liters respectively in 2010. And per capita spending on olive oil for the month of October this year was €1.94, down from €2.03 for October 2010. For other cooking oils it fell from €0.32 to €0.25, while for margarine it stayed at €0.25 and for butter rose from €0.13 to €0.15.

As for the hospitality sector, first quarter consumption for 2011 was down 6.3 percent for olive oil but up 5.7 percent for sunflower oil compared to 2010.

Total household consumption of olive oil for the month of October was 37.17 million liters, down from 37.59 million in October 2010. In the case of sunflower oil, consumption was 13.00 million liters, down from 13.05 million liters.

Olive oil exports are increasingly important for Spain, which already sends 60 percent of its production abroad. The good news for its producers – suffering a prolonged pricing crisis – is that the International Olive Council expects global consumption to rise 3.2 percent in 2011/12. That’s enough to soak up forecast world production of nearly 3.08 million tons, of which Spain is expected to produce about 45 percent.

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