After surpassing butter in the 1950s, Americans' per capita consumption of margarine now below that of butter
For the first half of the 20th century, supplies of butter available for U.S. consumers to eat (a proxy for consumption) averaged 16 pounds per person per year, compared with 2.8 pounds of margarine. Shortages and rationing of butter during World War II led consumers and food processors to substitute margarine for butter. After the war, many earlier public policies and restrictions on margarine (including restrictions on coloring margarine yellow) were relaxed, and some consumers had become more accustomed to the taste of margarine. Expanding soybean oil supplies contributed to margarine’s lower price relative to butter. Between 1942 and 1972, butter availability fell from 16.4 to 5.0 pounds per person per year, while annual per person availability of margarine increased from 2.9 to 11.1 pounds. In the second half of the 1970s, margarine availability began trending downward, more steeply starting in 1994. By 2005, margarine availability had fallen below butter availability, despite butter’s higher price. In 2013, per capita availability of butter was 5.5 pounds. Butter may owe part of its recent increase in popularity to concerns about trans fats in margarine and suggestions that saturated fat is not as unhealthy as once thought. This chart appears in “Butter and Margarine Availability Over the Last Century” in the July 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.