Margarine is said to have been invented on 15 July 1869. The person behind the invention was a Paris-based pharmacist and chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouriés, who created it by mixing processed beef tallow with milk, which appeared to be an ideal substitute for the working class and for Napoleon’s army of hungry soldiers. There is one more thing worth mentioning in connection with this anniversary: Fifteen years ago, Czech consumers came to believe that the substitute is better than the real thing and began to buy margarine in large quantities instead of butter. Margarine is one of the delusions of the 1990s.
Margarine, which is no longer produced from beef tallow but from chemically processed whipped hydrogenated oil, hit the Czech market shortly after September 1989. The most wide-spread brands, Rama and Flora, were brought here by Unilever (the company which took over the margarine production directly from the original founder) and the Czech customer came to learn about well-functioning, multi-national direct marketing. The consumption of butter fell by almost one half between 1989 and 2000, while margarine consumption grew each year. Of course, this also had much to do with the lower prices and health concerns; however, many people really came to believe that the processed oil tastes better than the delicious-smelling fat from a cow’s udder.
It is not the only mistake highlighting the naivety of a society that believed that the west knew better and that those marketing slogans, coming from the advanced democracies, could be trusted.
Plastic windows are another example of progressive products imported here from abroad. How many houses have been spoiled by the installation of plastic windows? Another example is home ownership. It was mainly bank advertisements that made Czechs believe that paying rent is below their standard and that anyone can afford to buy a flat.
What is interesting about all this? Observing these details, we can see how our society has changed. New houses no longer have plastic windows. And a lot more people know they cannot afford a new house and that it is not reasonable to cover it with a mortgage even though the bank’s brochure says something else. The consumption of butter has been on the rise too in the last two years. Yes, this is partly because butter prices have dropped. But it could also be evidence that Czech consumers have become more self-assured, critical and mature. That they trust their own preferences rather than global marketing. It is up to the consumer whether he wants to celebrate the margarine anniversary or not.