A lot has changed for dairy in the past few years, with the unrelenting march of plant-based putting considerable pressure on the sector. Plant-based milks have transformed in terms of variety and quality, while the vegan cheese and yoghurt spaces undergo continuous evolution.
Innovation is key to the traditional dairy industry in the face of changing consumer habits, with the failures of the yoghurt category last year (losing £50.6m compared to 2018) a good example of a dairy-based space struggling to keep consumer interest.
Could butter be a route for dairy innovation in the coming year?
Much has been said of red meat, and beef in particular, becoming more of a luxury proposition in the near future, with Sublime Butter, an independent company based out of South West London, created after its founder, Christopher Mair, found that sauces and accompaniments for London’s best steaks often overpowered the taste of the meat.
“The produce we get now in the UK is significantly better than 10-15 years ago and it seemed a crying shame to kill the quality meat flavour through overpowering sauces,” Mair tells Food Spark.
“So, I hired a chef and set about creating a new type of steak sauce. I love my sauce flavour, but I want to taste the flavour of the meat, to accentuate it.
Mair and his team created lots of different recipes for rubs, sauces, oil-based accompaniments and mustards, but the one thing that really stood out was flavoured butter.
“I immediately knew that that was the way to go,” he adds.
Beyond the beef
After focusing their efforts on flavoured butter for steaks, Sublime saw an opportunity to broaden their reach. The three-strong launch range – chimichurri; truffle, parmesan and black pepper; and garlic, rosemary and mint – has been tested for applications beyond the humble cow.
“The chimichurri is a classic beef steak accompaniment, but the truffle butter goes brilliantly in scrambled eggs, for example, and it also livens up mash,” explains Mair.
“We released the mint butter just in time for lamb season, and we’ve a curry butter, a lemongrass butter and a chilli butter in development.”
Sublime have entered into close to 100 independent UK retailers and have plans to be supermarket-ready in “the not-too-distant future.”
They are also planning a Christmas butter for the end of the year and an assault on the sandwich and breakfast categories.
“Butter’s versatility allows us to cross into multiple categories,” says Mair.
“For breakfast, for example, we are developing a marmalade butter, and we have plans for, one day, a marmite butter.”
Their most recent release, meanwhile, is a salted butter with pink Himalayan salt.
“There’s not been a huge amount of innovation in the butter space in this country which I find odd because not only is it extremely versatile as an ingredient, butter is a £1.5bn industry in this country alone,” comments Mair.
“The market is dominated by the big players like Lurpak and supermarket own brands, but they haven’t innovated to much extent. It seems like an industry resting on its laurels.”
Mair says that recent anti-carb/sugar trends in UK health circles have taken the pressure off of butter’s saturated fats, with the rise of the more discerning, taste-led consumer potentially providing a springboard for a butter revolution.
“Butter tastes significantly better than margarine, there’s no competition, and people (from a flavour perspective) are becoming more discerning and conscious of their own tastes,” he says.
“There’s more knowledge about quality, provenance and general awareness with food than there was a generation ago, which works well for us and butter in general.”
Sublime are planning to roll out two new flavours over the next month: béarnaise as well as horseradish and tomato will soon join the fast-growing range.
“Fever Tree revolutionised the tonic space when they hit the mainstream,” says Mair. “We want to be the Fever Tree of the butter world!”