Sunday, September 02, 2007

No more Lurpak butter in Bulgaria

It may seem curious that, although Bulgaria has strong dairy industry, many Bulgarians prefer imported butter. This is a reaction to the habit of Bulgarian producers to "enrich" butter with plant oils and water. They are of course motivated by altruism - to keep consumer's cholesterol low and prevent dehydration. However, many people (including me) don't want to buy some water-saturated margarine under the label "butter" and at the price of butter. Every child can see that it doesn't look, smell, taste or melt like butter. So we buy German butter or the French President.
About a year ago, as I was shopping at a supermarket, I saw Danish Lurpak butter. I spotted it instantly, because I already had its image in my mind, created by Big Pharaoh's Feb. 19, 2006 post ( You remember, after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting prophet Mohamed, enraged and carefully manipulated Arab Muslims imposed a boycott on Danish goods, mainly dairy products. Unwanted by its regular Arab buyers, some Lurpak butter had found its way to Bulgaria.
At that time, the appeal "Buy Danish" was read and heard all over the democratic world. I became a regular Lurpak buyer. It was similar in price and quality to the other imported butters. Then, in late January 2007, it became cheaper.
A decreased price must be a red flag to the consumer. It usually indicates that something is wrong with the product. Most often, it is approaching or even has passed its expiry date. However, I bought a package and didn't devote any thought to the situation. My attitude towards expiry dates is inconsistent. I know how important they are for consumers' health. I know that those consumers who check the date and protest and complain about expired products are good citizens and their actions benefit the whole society. However, I don't check the expiry dates even of baby foods. I also don't get along very well with people who pay attention to expiry dates. I simply refuse to occupy my mind with such boring things. I am a person of quite ordinary cognitive abilities. If I waste them to check what I'm buying, I'll remain without thinking capacity for more important things. You must be a genius to occupy your brain with everything and still to function. Though, frankly, it is difficult for me to imagine Darwin or Einstein checking expiry dates on products.
My mother in-law, on the contrary, has much respect to expiry dates and always checks them. After seeing my cheap Lurpak, she asked:
"Haven't you any other butter?"
"No." (The previous package had been eaten away.)
"Because this one is approaching its expiry date."
I looked at the butter's label. It was produced at Feb. 20, 2006, best before Feb. 19, 2007.
"Well, what's the problem?" I asked. "It's still January."
"Anyway, it's too near. I don't want to use this butter for the child's breakfast."
I told my husband I was going shopping.
"But you have just returned from shopping."
"Yes, but..." I explained the problem.
"Is that butter Bulgarian?"
"No, it isn't."
"This is what is important. The butter is good. I'll talk to my mother."
He went to her and had a heated and quite pointless argument, while I bought some stupid Bulgarian quasi-butter (but with an expiry date in the distant future).
Soon after these events, the Lurpak butter disappeared from our supermarkets. I still check for it when I'm shopping, but it's gone and unlikely to return.
You understand what had happened, don't you? Lurpak butter is too expensive for Bulgarian consumers. Normally it has nothing to do at our market. But when its usual Arab consumers boycotted it, the merchants found themselves overwhelmed by masses of unwanted butter. Then the boycott ended and newly produced butter found its way to the Arab world again. But the merchants wouldn't try to sell the stockpiled old butter to the Arabs. This would be regarded as disrespect and could lead to a new boycott, because there may be millions of Arab housewives checking expiry dates like my mother in-law does. So the old butter was sold to Bulgarians (and probably other poor people) at a knockdown price. Still better than discarding.
A short description of a possible better future: Bulgarians can afford Danish butter, so Danes don't need to sell it to Arabs who have different values and may decide to boycott it any minute.
A short description of a possible even better future: Bulgarians principally can afford Danish butter but prefer to buy Bulgarian butter which has, finally, become butter. Danes sell their butter mainly to Arabs who, finally, have the same values, ask each other "Did you ever hear the one about the Prophet's beard?" ( and wouldn't boycott.

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