Nov. 25 2015 06:21 AM

That creamy spread hasn't changed, but its public perception has.

butter on toast Butter is back! On family tables and restaurant menus, our old friend is asking consumers to rethink this dairy staple.

Dairy Management Inc., the group that manages the dairy checkoff, recently shared the back story on how butter replaced margarine at over 14,000 McDonald's restaurants in the United States.

For over 25 years, DMI has led milkfat research through the National Dairy Council. The results show that dairy fat is different than other fats. Because of the science, consumers now have "permission" to add dairy fat to their diet. Without the milk fat research, it is doubtful that butter would have replaced margarine at McDonald's in 2015.

Another chapter to the butter story is partnerships. In 2009, DMI changed its business plan, moving away from television ads and toward partnerships. McDonald's was one of the first ones to join forces to aid in dairy sales with the McCafe beverage. With dairy as the focus, other milk-based products also emerged including yogurt, low-fat chocolate milk and most recently mozzarella sticks. Milk is now the default beverage in Happy Meals.

Other partnerships exist with Taco Bell, Domino's, Pizza Hut and Quaker. With these alliances, domestic cheese consumption is up. We can thank pizza for much of that, as 25 percent of all cheese in the U.S. ends up on pizza.

Having DMI dieticians work with restaurants paves the way for healthy options made with dairy to gain access to menus. The switch to butter was also guided by this partnership.

In moving to butter, DMI food specialists worked with McDonald's staff to make the switch. The people relationship that had been built over the years was also a contributing factor. The McDonald's decision is expected to move as much as 600 million pounds of fluid milk equivalent in a year.

McDonald's is seen as a leader in the fast food industry. When McDonald's makes a change or develops a new product for its 27 million daily consumers, others are likely to follow. Currently there are 20 national menu items that contain dairy.

In addition to the butter swap, McDonald's is now serving breakfast all day. This is a positive change for dairy as well, because breakfast items contain more dairy, cheese and butter than other meals.

Dairy producers' 15 cent investment for every one hundred pounds of milk produced is making headway by reaching new markets and expanding current ones. "The bottom line is that we are selling more dairy products," commented dairy producer and DMI board member Harold Shaulis.

You can read more in McDonald's butters up its customers in Hoard's Dairyman Intel.

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The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.