A Butter Shortage Is Coming—Here’s How to Prep for Holiday Baking Season

Learn more about the butter shortage, then, just in time for pie and cookie baking season, discover where you can currently score the best price per pound.

Softened butter stick on wrapper wth knife
Photo: Jay Wilde

If you’re an amateur or professional baker, are hooked on the butter board trend, are planning ahead for holiday baking, or have our four celebrity chef-designed 100th anniversary cake recipes on your baking bucket list, listen up: Butter shortage 2022 is real. 

But no need to melt into a puddle of worry—yes, even with prime pie and cookie season just weeks away. Ahead, we’ll explain why a butter shortage might be imminent, plus how to adjust savory and sweet recipes to account for any ingredient swaps required. While nothing can fully replace the flavor of our beloved Irish butter, we do have some very serviceable substitutes if you can’t find butter in the supermarket refrigerator case.

Why Is There a Butter Shortage?

Much like the possible turkey shortage, the butter shortage boils down to three main challenges: Inflation, supply and demand, and labor shortages.

The Wall Street Journal confirms that, due to higher costs for animal food and fuel to transport everything needed to raise dairy cows, overall dairy production is down. Buying, growing, and maintaining a herd of dairy cows is far more costly now than it was in the past. As a result, America’s supply of butter has dipped to its lowest level since 2017. 

Challenging weather (extreme temperatures, storms, floods, droughts) and processing plant staffing insufficiencies only add to the issue. 

In August 2022, America’s supply of butter in storage was approximately 283 million pounds, per a USDA report. This is a drastic decrease from the 363 million pounds in stock during August 2021.

How Much Is the Butter Shortage Impacting Prices?

These supply challenges—in tandem with overall food inflation to the tune of about 10%, according to the USDA—are adding up quickly at checkout. Due to the butter shortage, the price of butter has spiked 24.6% year over year in August. While the butter shortage is apparent in all parts of the country, demand is particularly outpacing supply in the Midwest and Northeast.

In January, the national average price for a pound of butter was $3.67. By September, the average price had risen to $4.72 per pound, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

What Can We Do About the Butter Shortage?

If you adore butter as much as our Test Kitchen pros and editors do, you can take a deep breath: The 2022 butter shortage is not extreme enough that it is drastically impacting supply yet. You should still be able to find butter for baking in most parts of the country. 

The butter you will find, however, will be more expensive. We recommend comparing prices online before you shop digitally or in the store. While there’s no need to buy in massive bulk quantities, which would only make the butter shortage worse for your fellow bakers and butter board-makers, it can be wise to buy a few pounds. Keep what you plan to use in the next month in the refrigerator, or you can feel free to freeze butter for at least 5 months with no ill effects to flavor or texture, the National Dairy Council advises.

Based on our butter searches at press time, Trader Joe’s is home to the best deal on butter (for the time being):

If you fall short on your search or simply want to save on your grocery budget, brush up on our best butter substitutes, including margarine, shortening, applesauce, tofu, beans, and beyond. Our recommendations vary based on the fat quantity called for and the recipe flavor and cooking style.

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