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Meet the Underground Network of Butter Bargain Hunters

High prices have bakers scouting stores and spreading news about deals; ‘People are passionate about butter’

By CLARE ANSBERRY
Wed, Nov 23, 2022 8:56amGrey Clock 4 min

Word oozed out earlier this month. The news quickly spread. Worries softened. Aldi supermarket had lowered the price of butter.

“Everyone was abuzz,” says Laura Magone, who moderates the Wedding Cookie Table Community Facebook page, where the butter deal was the big talk among bakers who share recipes and cooking tips.

Some of her 111,000 members posted images of the Aldi weekly circulars showing butter selling for $2.49 a pound in their area followed by “Woohoo!” Lines were reported in Boardman, Ohio. “There was no butter in Painesville, Ohio, this morning,” one baker declared. In Daytona Beach, the sale price was $2.99, noted another. Several offered ways to get around the six-pounds-of butter-per-person limits. “Took three buddies and got 24 pounds.”

The coming holidays and near record high butter prices have churned up an underground butter brigade. People who love to bake are scouting national, regional and local stores across the country and sharing butter deals with fellow spritz and snickerdoodle makers on social media. They post photos of store shelves with prices listed and kitchen counters piled with their latest hauls. One made a butter Jenga.

“People are passionate about butter,” says Ms. Magone, of Pittsburgh. The wedding cookie table members are generous, she says, offering advice on baking, freezing butter, making butter and ways to stretch every bit of butter. One tip: freeze butter wrappers and use them to grease cookie sheet pans.

Ms. Magone posted a recipe for a raisin bar cookie, called poor man’s cookie, on the page. It doesn’t call for butter.

Many tips center on butter, but members also post egg and nut deals. One found walnuts at a small store in northwest Pennsylvania for $2.43 a pound, adding “They are really fresh, too!”

Aldi rolled back prices to 2019 levels on dozens of products, including baking ingredients such as pecans and marshmallows, as part of its Thanksgiving Price Rewind program. Butter wasn’t included.

“While butter is not part of our rewind program, we know it is a key baking ingredient, which is why we have increased our supply to meet the holiday demand,” says Scott Patton, vice president of national buying at Aldi U.S. Butter prices vary by location, he said.

Bob Cropp, who writes a column for the Cheese Reporter, says prices vary based on competition and regional costs. “I can sometimes buy butter for $1 less at my 7-Eleven than the grocery store,” says Dr. Cropp, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He says butter prices reached record highs in September but are expected to come down by the end of the year. He attributes higher prices to more demand—butter consumption rose to 6.5 pounds per person in 2021, from 5.6 pounds in 2015, he says—and lower supply. Butter inventories in September were down 18% from a year ago, he says, due in part to higher exports and labor shortages as well as our growing appetite for cheese, which uses a lot of milk fat that would otherwise make butter.

Dee Stroup, who won a Pittsburgh Nut Roll Competition in 2019, needs 20 pounds of butter to get through Thanksgiving and Christmas and will only bake with Land O’ Lakes. She checks with her local market and talks often with a wholesaler who supplies restaurants. She stocks up when she gets a deal and posts on the Wedding Cookie Table Community Facebook page. She found butter for $3.88 a pound and issued a dispatch: “LAND O’ LAKES BUTTER ALERT.”

“I try to get the word out to our community,” she says. One woman responded that she went out and bought 13 pounds.

Ms. Stroup also decided to make butter and posted the recipe, a photo of her 3-ounce block and some advice. Her arms grew tired after 10 minutes of shaking heavy cream in a canning jar, so she put it in her mixer, which had a whisk attachment. Seven minutes later, she had butter, which she will use on bread, but not for baking.

Often mentions of deals are coupled with discussion of name brands versus store brands and whether salted or unsalted works best.

“Some people swear by Land O’ Lakes or Kerrygold. I use what I can afford,” says Robin Knox Schreiter, of Lititz, Pa. Ms. Schreiter goes through about 10 pounds to make cookies and another 3 to 4 pounds to make German sweet bread called stollen when her family gets together the first weekend of December. She recently bought her allotted six pounds of Countryside Creamery butter at one Aldi and sent her husband to another to get six more.

Shariann Hall, of Canfield, Ohio, posted about a $2.49 butter sale on the Youngstown Cookie Table Facebook page: “For your holiday baking butter stash!” That prompted responses including one saying the price in Florida is $3.99, followed by an angry-face emoji. Ms. Hall says she started stocking up on butter in September and had about 20 pounds in the fridge.

“My nephew calls my house the house of 2,000 cookies,” she says. “He’s pretty close.”

Beverly Snyder Kundla, of Homer City, Pa., reached out for advice after using lower-priced margarine in a batch of caramel-stuffed snickerdoodles, which came out looking too flat.

“With as many cookies as I’ll make over the next three months, I can’t afford butter on a school secretary’s salary,” says Ms. Kundla. One fellow baker suggested another brand of margarine. A few recommended using half butter, half margarine. Another said she could try making butter. Ms. Kundla responded saying she had looked into that possibility but a quart of cream costs as much as a pound of butter.

Her mother, Anna Mary Snyder, made butter, but had a cow she milked twice a day. Ms. Kundla posted a photo of Anna Mary’s recipe for sugar cookies on the Wedding Cookie Table Community Facebook page. It uses lard, rather than butter.

“I would like to find more recipes with lard,” she says.

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The Lipstick Index Is Back

Sales of the cosmetic product are a bright spot in an otherwise bleak discretionary-goods environment

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Fri, Nov 25, 2022 2 min

Masks off, lipstick index on.

In a gloomy economy, consumers might cut back on other discretionary purchases but will keep shelling out for small luxuries such as lipstick—or so goes the theory. “When lipstick sales go up, people don’t want to buy dresses,” Leonard Lauder, then-chairman of Estée Lauder who is widely credited for coming up with the so-called “lipstick index,” told The Wall Street Journal in 2001.

L’Oréal Chief Executive Nicolas Hieronimus called this out during the company’s earnings call in October, noting that a luxury lipstick or mascara is only €30, making it an “affordable treat.” Sales at L’Oréal rose 9.1% in the third quarter compared with a year earlier despite slower sales in China due to Covid-related lockdowns. Coty, maker of CoverGirl makeup, said organic sales grew 9% over the same period.

Beauty sales have also been a rare bright spot for retailers: Target said beauty category sales grew roughly 15% in its quarter ended Oct. 29 compared with a year earlier, with Ulta Beauty shops in Target tripling their total sales volume over that period.

While Macy’s namesake stores saw comparable-store sales decline last quarter, its beauty-focused Bluemercury chain saw same-store sales grow 14% last quarter compared with a year earlier. Kohl’s locations with Sephora are outperforming the rest of the department-store chain.

Of the 14 discretionary categories that market research firm NPD Group tracks, prestige beauty—products you might find at a department store or a Sephora—is the only category that is seeing unit sales growth year to date. And lipstick, which suffered during the masked-up pandemic, is making up for lost time.

Lipstick sales have grown 37% through October this year compared with a year earlier, according to Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst at NPD Group. That is an acceleration from the 31% growth seen during the same period last year. Lip product is the only major category within prestige beauty where sales are actually up compared with pre-pandemic levels, according to Ms. Jensen.

Cosmetic companies have also called out strong sales in fragrances, calling it the “fragrance index.” Demand has been so robust that there is an industrywide fragrance component shortage, Coty said in a press release announcing third-quarter earnings earlier this month. CEO Sue Nabi said during the call that Coty hasn’t seen any kind of trade-down or slowdown, also noting that consumers are shifting away from gifting perfume to buying it for themselves.

“A big piece of it is just a shift in what wellness means to consumers,” NPD Group’s Ms. Jensen said. “Beauty is one of the few industries that are positioned to meet [consumers’] emotional need. It makes them feel good.”

While the lipstick effect could be observed in the recession in the early 2000s, that wasn’t the case during the 2007-09 recession, during which lipstick sales declined alongside other discretionary purchases. Part of this might have had to do with category-specific dynamics.

There was a lot of newness in the cosmetic industry in 2001, including lip gloss, a relatively nascent category back then. That tailwind simply wasn’t there starting in 2008, though nail polish turned out to be consumers’ small indulgence of choice in that period. This time around, consumers may be eager to show off a part of their face that was hidden behind a mask for so long during the pandemic.

In an otherwise bleak environment for companies selling discretionary goods, those in the business of selling cosmetics look well poised to come out of the holiday season looking freshened up.

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