How Challenge Dairy leaned on YouTube influencers to propel Danish Creamery from heritage to all-the-rage

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

Image supplied by Challenge Dairy Products Inc.
Image supplied by Challenge Dairy Products Inc.

Related tags Butter premiumisation Dairy Social media influencers Marketing Advertising

We spoke to Challenge Dairy president Michael Burdeny to find out what drove the company’s latest promotional strategy.

Americans love butter. The nation has consumed around 35% more butter in the last 20 years, with around 6 pounds (2.7kg) of butter consumed per person in 2022.

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From spreadable to super-premium: Danish Creamery is known for its European-style butters, including 85% butterfat blocks. Image via Challenge Dairy Products, Inc.

According to USDA forecast data, consumption was expected to increase 5% in 2023 compared to 2022, rising further 3% in 2024. Imports are also forecast to increase 5% this year, and USDA estimates that in 2023 alone, butter imports rose 13%. The Department says that increased demand from the foodservice industry is the main growth driver for the category.

At a retail level, Circana data shows that refrigerated butter volumes have also increased during 2023, albeit more modestly at 1.6% year on year, with dollar sales growing 5.6%. (Source: Circana Core Outlets Total US MULO+C, 52 weeks ending December 31, 2023). The market research company estimates near-parity between the share of branded (51%) and private label (49%) butter in the US, though private label made greater dollar sales gains in 2023 compared to branded.

And just as brands have been eager to find ways to attract shoppers, consumers have been increasingly looking to get the most bang for their buck. Premiumization has been one way to successfully differentiate – but what if there’s something greater than ‘premium’?

The appeal of high butterfat products

Danish Creamery, a subsidiary of Challenge Dairy Products, Inc. is one of the players in the so-called ‘super-premium’ butter segment. The company’s European-style butter contains higher butterfat content than the typical 80% American-style fare, and the brand recently partnered with some of YouTube’s hottest food creators to create video content that feature recipes using the US dairy major’s heritage butter brand.

Danish Creamery’s history goes back 129 years back, and the brand is one of very few on the US market that’s persisted with its European-style formulation. Michael Burdeny, president of Challenge Dairy, told us that the company produces some of the ‘richest, most delicious premium butters available in the US’ under the brand, including an 85% butterfat offering.

“There are dozens of butter brands in the United States, but only a few make what we call the super-premium European style butter, which contains 82% butterfat or more,” he explained.

“Higher butterfat products are more expensive and more challenging to produce, and they take longer to manufacture. We take the extra time and effort to produce our butter in the Danish tradition, but make it in the United States. Our butter doesn't have to be shipped long distances or put up in storage for several months, as can be the case with imported butter.”

He admitted that the average consumer might not understand the difference that higher butterfat content makes. “To go from 80% butterfat to 85% butterfat is surprisingly more complicated, significantly more time-consuming, and more expensive, but we think the outcome is absolutely worth the extra effort.”

The growing influence of social media marketing

The brand’s decision to partner with YouTube food influencers also makes sense – Danish Creamery’s core consumer group are food lovers who ‘enjoy the cooking process as much as the end result’, as Burdeny put it.

“Social media influencers are very important sources of inspiration for home cooks, especially for young people who are just discovering butter's versatility and flavor-boosting potential,” he told us. “Today's cooks inspire and influence one another online, where they post and share about the foods they love cooking and eating.”

The Challenge Dairy president said the company was spending more on social media influencers ‘than we have on all marketing in our 113-year history’. “In today's fragmented media landscape, partnering with social media influencers or other creators who love butter is a central part of our marketing strategy, as it allows us to reach a wide range of consumers in relevant ways and through authentic voices,” he told us, adding that YouTube was one of the most important platforms the company is using to reach consumers.

“We want to show up where our consumers are searching for inspiration,” he explained. “We have partnered with YouTube creators who are known for their creativity and for having fun with cooking. We don't prescribe what they need to cook when featuring our ingredients. We want to see how a super-premium butter like ours could inspire their YouTube content and result in recipes that resonate with their audience.”

Matty Matheson, Carla Lalli Music, Senyai Grubs, Senpai Kai and Babish Culinary Universe are some of the influencers that the brand has partnered with, with each video running on the creators’ YouTube channel and syndicated across social media.  

As for what that content is doing for the butter brand so far, Burdeny told us the results have been positive from the get-go. “The content has over 7.5 million views to-date, and we have already seen our website visits are up to 250%. We have really only started this campaign and we expect to continue it at least through the end 2024.”

From Butter Boards to Gen Z

We asked Burdeny what are some ways in which consumers are using butter creatively, particularly since the Butter Board trend of a couple of years ago.

“What we liked about the butter board is that it opened up everyone's mind to the idea that butter could go beyond simply being a topping or a baking ingredient, that it could be the focal point of a social occasion,” he explained. It also happened when we were all looking forward to reconnecting with each other at a table, and butter is one thing we can all agree on.

“From a trend standpoint, we have been amazed to see how even the simpler foods are still in vogue and being shared, such as pan-fried eggs or butter-basted steak."

“On the opposite end of the spectrum, we are noticing some butter-forward recipes that are incredibly elaborate and time-consuming to execute, such as the 243-layer butter toast.”

Asked if the social media-centered campaign is targeting younger consumers more than any other demographics, Burdeny suggested that there is room to improve butter consumption among younger shoppers.

“Gen Z and younger Millennials are our fastest growing consumer groups, but they underperform in total butter consumption when compared to Gen X and Boomers,” the president explained. “The benefits of a short ingredient list — butter contains only two ingredients: cream and salt — combined with the inimitable flavor and performance of butter will continue to foster growth of sales as more and more cooks discover inspiring recipes that use butter.”

‘A full pipeline of innovations’

But it’s not just about marketing strategy for the heritage butter brand. Burdeny told us that the Challenge Dairy has ‘a full pipeline’ of new offerings to excite foodies in the coming months.

“We are focusing on many innovations using highest quality ingredients and product forms combined with our butters.

“We have recently introduced premium salt flavors in our European-style stick butter line: garlic salt, pink Himalayan salt, and rosemary salt.

“Our product development teams have a full pipeline of innovations in the making, which will enable home and professional chefs to take their creations to extraordinary levels with premium butters from Danish Creamery.”

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