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The selection of oils available to manufacturers goes far beyond commodity crops like soy, canola, sunflower and rapeseed. The unique flavour of oils like those from nuts or olives can give products a premium positioning, while others are popular for their health profile, such as those from hemp, chia, flax and avocado.
Their benefits in terms of flavour, health and marketability must be balanced with their functional limitations, but some alternative oils are becoming increasingly popular even in products that are cooked at high temperatures, like crisps and crackers. Major US crisp maker Kettle Chips, for instance, has introduced varieties fried in almond or avocado oil, and it also offers organic varieties, although these use sunflower and/or safflower oil rather than speciality oils.
Meanwhile, many new brands are entering the market with organic product lines that require oils, particularly snacks, according to bulk edible oils advisor Hannah Broaddus at Centra Foods1.
“At this time, the organic oil ingredient market is tight due to gradually increasing demand, but not in crisis. My personal recommendation would be for brands to contract in their supply needs and diversify their supply base to make sure that their oil needs are fully covered.”
The increase in demand has turned the low fat diet trend of the 1980s and 1990s on its head, and consumers now are beginning to embrace the concept of healthy fats and oils. In response, manufacturers have started to underline their health attributes. This might mean highlighting various healthy fatty acids, such as omega3s, gamma linolenic acid (GLA), or medium chain triglycerides (MCT). For some, organic production is equally important.
The use of organic oils has grown rapidly in recent years. According to Mintel’s GNPD, nearly 8,000 new products containing organic oils were launched worldwide in 2018, about 280% higher than in 2010. To remain competitive, companies are keen to adapt products and introduce novelty into the market with emerging vegetable oils.
Source: Mintel GNPD
According to the Netherlands’ CBI, the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries:
“In general, these are oils belonging to the specialty food segment, characterised by high quality (and high value) and low volumes. The exotic origin of several emerging oils is also associated with strong marketing campaigns, articulating ancient cultures or biodiversity aspects inherent to the vegetable oil.”2
De Wit Speciality Oils is a Dutch company that supplies a wide range of oils mainly for the nutraceutical sector, and it offers several organic options. About half of the company’s hemp seed oil and pumpkinseed oil is organic – both are sold for use as salad oils and in cooking, as well as in supplements – while only about 10-15% of its high-GLA oils like those from borage and evening primrose are organic.
Company director Gertjan de Wit said for speciality oils sold in small quantities, the price of organic sourcing can be a major market barrier. According to him:
“If you look at borage oil, it’s quite a problem to find farmers to grow organic. For organic you can only use the cold pressed part, so maybe organic is twice as expensive.”
For other oils the premium may be closer to 20%, but whether these are marketable depends entirely on what the consumer is willing to pay. Some might be willing to pay 50% more for organic borage oil, but no more, he said. For some oils, the quantities are just too small, and even if the supplier could find farmers to produce them, natural products like oils may end up out of specification in any given season.
Gertjan de Wit (Director of De Wit Speciality Oils) adds:
“Also, the customer might not take it, so you end up with a very expensive oil.”
However, de Wit added that the company has seen growing demand for organic oils, and customers are becoming increasingly sensitive about ensuring product quality.