Food writer Alex Renton recently pointed out to readers of The Times that three-quarters of butter sold in the UK was now imported. He followed by Tweeting: "No wonder (British) dairy farmers are chucking in the three-legged stool."

The comment might not have surprised shoppers, but the former probably did. Most are labouring under the illusion reinforced by canny marketing that butter is mostly homegrown. The reality is that some of the category's biggest hitters are anything but. Arla's Lurpak and Anchor are imported from Denmark and New Zealand respectively and they have such prominent positions in the top 10 that their provenance has probably become blurred in consumers' minds.

That's not to say that producers that do produce butters in the UK can't use UK provenance to good effect. "I believe that offering UK provenance is still very important for some shoppers," says Brian Beattie, head of marketing at Northern Ireland-based Dale Farm, which supplies its Loseley Summer Meadow Butter to Waitrose, Ocado and Morrisons.

"Concentrating on provenance has worked well for Country Life, but the price and quality must also be right. People won't just buy something because it has a British flag." Brands such as Anchor also continue to flag up what British associations they can, while smaller and more premium overseas names highlight their quality credentials as well as provenance. Normandy's Isigny Sainte-Mère supplies branded and own- label butters to all the major retailers.

"UK consumers are often looking to recreate the eating experiences they had overseas and we are seeing a trend towards using higher quality ingredients," claims Camille Mancelle, UK key accounts manager. It seems UK producers will need to fight back on two fronts: provenance and quality.

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