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Continued: Butter's comeback churns big sales

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 14, 2014 - 6:34 AM

Land O’Lakes has innovated over the past decade, adding butters made with canola oil and olive oil, both of which make the product more spreadable. The company has even launched garlic herb and honey butter spreads. Still, the new products’ ingredient lists are quite short, and that’s what consumers increasingly want.

Land O’Lakes is a giant co-op with interests in everything from animal feed to herbicides. But it started back in the early 1920s as a butter producer, and today makes by far the nation’s leading butter, its Indian maiden logo a marketing icon.

Hope Creamery also started in the early 1920s, in the small town of Hope. By 2001, the little co-op was on its last legs when Victor Mrotz purchased it.

He bought Hope Creamery to supplement his income. At the time, it was churning out only 30,000 pounds of butter a year. Today, it’s doing more than 300,000 pounds.

The locally made advantage

Mrotz tapped into another big food trend — the local phenomenon. Increasingly, restaurants and grocery stores have been searching out locally produced or grown products.

Hope made its way into Lucia’s restaurant in Minneapolis and more eateries followed. Kowalski’s supermarkets picked up Hope’s butter, and Lunds and Byerly’s followed. Twin Cities food co-ops are also big customers.

All of them are following consumer demand for more butter, be it the higher-end — and higher priced — stuff that Hope makes or the classic sticks from Land O’Lakes.

One quarter of consumers indicated in a Mintel survey that they’re eating more butter this year than last, compared to 13 percent who said they were eating more margarine. And margarine usually costs less than butter.

Mrotz said he has the demand to produce more butter at Hope. But he still farms, which also demands his time.

Hope Creamery is in a small brick building where it turns out butter by the batch, not through continuous production like the big players. Still, the process is similar, just on a smaller scale.

Cream is trucked in from Plainview Milk Products Cooperative about 70 miles away from Hope. It gets pasteurized in stainless steel tanks. Buttermilk is skimmed off. What’s left goes into the churn — a big rotating drum — where it clumps into curds and eventually morphs into a big blob.

It’s not really complicated. “Butter is kind of a throwback product, ” Mrotz said.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

  • related content

  • Hope Creamery manager Jay Logan tossed a chunk of freshly churned butter into the butter wrapping machine Thursday in Hope, Minn. The creamery, which churns more than 300,000 pounds of butter a year, has found success selling to Twin Cities eateries and grocery stores.

  • Production worker Shane Malherek boxes up one-pound chunks of freshly churned butter at Hope Creamery.

  • Following a lengthy churning process, packager Cody Blouin, front, and plant manager Jay Logan opened the door on the butter churner, revealing hundreds of pounds of the creamy butter before it was wrapped into 1-pound blocks at Hope Creamery in Hope, Minn, on Thursday.

  • Victor Mrotz, the owner of Hope Creamery, stood near two pasteurizing machines at his small, renowned butter-making business.

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