Four tonnes of foreign butter is coming to Canada after the Canadian Dairy Commission (CDC) was granted permission to do so last month amid a butter shortage leading up to the holiday season.
Over the past year, the CDC says butter sales has increased by about 3.5 to four per cent, making it tough to build stocks.
"We've never seen butter consumption do what it's doing now," says CDC CEO Jacques Laforge at the Manitoba Dairy Conference in early December. "We can't keep up milk production fast enough with the demand. To increase milk production by two per cent a year is not too bad if you know in advance, but when it goes to four or five per cent, we're not used to it, so we need to gear up in advance."
Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of distribution and food policy at the University of Guelph's Food Institute, says Canada's inability to adjust to this shift in consumer trends speaks to the supply management system.
"I think we need to address two things," he says, "the one we need to make sure our industry is more productive and that our intent is to actually produce more, and secondly, we need a more loosened regime. Right now, our current supply management scheme is anything but flexible, so obviously if demand changes, we need to make sure our mechanisms are adequate in order to address these changes."
Charlebois also says Canada has faced butter shortages before, but is surprised by the interest the Canadian public has taken in the issue this time around.
"CETA (Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) have allowed consumers to better understand how things work even though the system itself is very complex. At least the consumers are starting to realize that agricultural policy may actually have an impact on them," he says.
The imported butter from countries like New Zealand and Ireland won't end up on grocery store shelves, but will be sold for industrial use.