Fat chance of finding a bargain on the yummier things in life this summer. Across the nation, there's a shortage of butterfat, the stuff that makes ice cream, chocolate, pastries and other rich foods taste oh so good. That's led to a pitched battle for the stuff among food manufacturers--a battle that could mean record prices for butter, ice cream, cheese and cream cheese. "I'd tell people to stock up, but I'm afraid that window of opportunity passed three weeks ago," said dairy consultant Mary Ledman of Libertyville, Ill. "You're going to have to look long and hard to find anything with butterfat in it on special by the third quarter." Butterfat is the fatty part of milk that is processed out to make butter and also added to foods.
Americans have been greasing the wheels for an increase in prices for months, as flavor began to triumph over health-consciousness. Food manufacturers have quietly been adding more fat to their products this year, and people have been lapping it up. Meanwhile, cows are still producing the same 3.6 pounds of butterfat for every 100 pounds of milk. Another key reason for the shortage is that the government is no longer supporting butter prices. For only the second time in history, the price of Grade AA butter has risen to $1.95 a pound, or 73% higher than a year ago, on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. As a result, prices at the supermarket could rise to $3 a pound by late summer, economists said. Prices have been about $2 a pound for most of the year. Ben & Jerry's and other ice cream manufacturers have raised or plan to raise their prices in coming weeks.