Why is a US West Coast stick of butter so fat?
September 12, 2009 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Bi-coastal Filter: Why are supermarket sticks of butter different sizes?

On the East Coast (DC where I know best) a pound of butter from most supermarkets comes in four long sticks about an inch square. But in California, (maybe all over the West?) the butter sticks are stubby, with a cross-section more like 1.5 inches. Why?
posted by Rash to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting. I didn't know this was the case. Wikipedia has a decent summary.
posted by av123 at 1:40 PM on September 12, 2009

thanks for asking this question!
After moving to the West Coast, I was surprised by the shape as well (Oregon has the fatties too).
posted by j at 1:46 PM on September 12, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the link. When I returned to DC after many years out West I preferred buying my butter at Giant because their house brand was available then in the Western-pack shape. I'm guessing East Coast Trader Joes also sell their butter that way?
posted by Rash at 1:46 PM on September 12, 2009

Every grocery store I've been in has a mix. Here in Portland, I believe Challenge and Land o' Lakes are skinny, most others are fat.
posted by peep at 2:00 PM on September 12, 2009

I live in Texas, but at our CostCo, they have Western butter sticks. I was literally asking this question last night, so I'm glad that someone asked it in a proper forum.

Chowhound has a short discussion about this as well.
posted by SNWidget at 2:08 PM on September 12, 2009

Just putting in a vote for mixed butter sizes at my grocery store.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:32 PM on September 12, 2009

Ah! That explains that weird stubby covered butter dish I bought once that didn't fit any butter! (In New Orleans, it's all long and skinny.)
posted by artychoke at 2:37 PM on September 12, 2009

Data point: mixed butter sizes at my grocery stores here in Philly, too.
posted by desuetude at 4:04 PM on September 12, 2009

Mixed butter sizes at most of my grocery stores in Texas. The long sticks are much more common, though, and the stubby ones are a more recent appearance.
posted by ishotjr at 5:03 PM on September 12, 2009

Whole foods has different packaging for their organic vs. non-organic butter as well. I have no idea why--it's the same amount in the end.
posted by jeffamaphone at 5:45 PM on September 12, 2009

West Coast born and raised and I've never in my life seen the long sticks. I had to do an image search to figure out what you were talking about. Weird!
posted by girlstyle at 6:12 PM on September 12, 2009

West Coast here- lived all of my life in California and Alaska, and had no idea that there was any other way until my New Hampshire boyfriend wondered why our Alaskan sticks were so stubby.

Every butter dish I have ever seen for sale has been built for the East Coast packaging, even in places where the stubbies are the only option available.
posted by charmedimsure at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2009

I have mainly grocery-shopped in the upper Midwest, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, and Colorado, and don't recall ever seeing anything but the long butter sticks you describe.
posted by lakeroon at 6:36 PM on September 12, 2009

I just moved to Massachusetts after living in California or Oregon my whole life. The long butter here is still weirding me out!
posted by apricot at 7:24 PM on September 12, 2009

Seattle has both.
posted by Aquaman at 8:00 PM on September 12, 2009

I like the idea of the stubby sticks, but still can't eyeball one tablespoon on them to save my life.
(East Coaster here)
posted by bink at 8:49 PM on September 12, 2009

Arizona has both, by various brands.

When I grew up in Seattle, we only got Imperial Margarine, which comes in stubbies.

In Indiana, the kind I usually got (Kroger?) came in the long sticks.

It seems to be more brand-related for me, because no matter where I've gotten Imperial Margarine it's been stubbies.

On a related note, at Costco when I get the 4-lb packs, they come in 1-lb sticks that are about the size of a flat grid (non-stacked) of 2x2 stubbies. And it's only marked down to the 1/4 c marks.
posted by bookdragoness at 9:27 PM on September 12, 2009

When I first moved to the west coast, I totally screwed up a batch of cookies because I thought the short and stubbies were half of the long sticks. (It makes no sense, I know. And reading the package was just too hard, I guess.) Anyway, very bad cookies. I've learned my lesson, but yeah, I had never seen the short and fat until I moved out here.
posted by Bueller at 9:46 PM on September 12, 2009

There's a decent couple of paragraphs on wikipedia (and elsewhere) that say what the difference between the two styles is:
"East of the Rockies, the Elgin shape butter stick, which is usually about 4.75" inches long and 1.25" inches wide, is the most common size butter stick and you will likely find many brands to choose from.

West of the Rocky Mountains, you will also find butter "cubes" in what is called the Western-Pack shape. The "cube" size has a width of 1.5".
But more searching for "Western-Pack" doesn't yield any more info about why the shapes differ.

I'm going to suggest that maybe the stubbier size produces larger, more appealing pats which are also used up more quickly by the consumer?

We're kind of shameless about that kind of product consumption manipulation out here on the West Side...
posted by Aquaman at 10:48 PM on September 12, 2009

I've lived in California, Texas and Washington and saw/bought only the stubby sticks. British Columbia sells the long sticks.

Can we talk about milk in bags now?
posted by deborah at 11:09 PM on September 12, 2009

In the UK, butter is uniformly a slab of roughly 4 inches by 2 inches by 1.5 inches.
posted by emilyw at 8:02 AM on September 13, 2009

Best answer: Although it wasn't actually the question, the comments on what's available where are appreciated. Looks like that line from the Wikipedia article is the answer to Why:
Due to historical variances in butter printers
though admittedly, it's not very satisfying.
posted by Rash at 4:37 PM on September 13, 2009

In Michigan, I used to buy butter in a "roll". It was, iirc, 2 pounds weight, solid cylinder. It was the most divine butter I've ever tasted, saving the butter my grandmother used to have delivered to her house, when I was a small child. I would miss the American sticks, now I'm in Europe, except that here, one cooks by weight, not volume, so it all balances out (pun intended).

Oh, and I hated those west coast stubby things, just for being different.
posted by Goofyy at 9:18 AM on September 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

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