Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) to be phased out of the food supply, new products with less saturated fat and greater functionality are emerging to take their place, according to Food Business News.
Some of the innovative products coming out to replace PHOs include shortenings either with soybean oil, which has no hydrogenated fats and low saturated fat, or palm oil, which is relatively high in saturated fat. Others are all-purpose margarine with a lower calorie count and high-oleic soybean oils, Food Business News reported.
The FDA determined in 2015 that PHOs, a major source of industrially produced trans fatty acid, could no longer have generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status. The agency gave food makers a deadline of June 18, 2018, to remove these substances from their products. The FDA extended that deadline to Jan. 1, 2020, for products containing PHOs made before June 18, 2018, to "work their way through distribution."
Manufacturers have many replacement products they can use to substitute for PHOs in baked goods, snacks, creamers, fried foods and other products. However, they must always be cognizant of the effect that a different fat or oil will have on the finished product — and on their bottom line. PHOs help prolong the shelf life of foods and maintain flavor stability, and those functions remain in high demand.
Food makers have made sizable investments in R&D to update their recipes with healthier oils. New formulas that won’t harm a product's taste are needed, and product shelf life will need to be tested. Also, product packaging must be changed to reflect the new ingredients. After those initial costs, manufacturers will still be paying more on average for the healthier oils.
Beside shortenings, soybean and canola oils and margarines, sunflower, safflower and peanut oil are gaining attention from food makers phasing out their use of PHOs. Consumers are increasingly aware of the types of fats and oils in their food and are tending toward more specialty products. These include coconut, almond, avocado, macadamia, rice bran, chia and hemp seed oils — although coconut's health halo has been tarnished lately because of its high level of saturated fat.
Consumers also care about the methods used to produce and extract cooking oils. For buyers of specialty oils, extraction methods matter, and many health-conscious consumers favor cold-pressed and organic oils over the use of solvents and genetically modified ingredients.
Palm oil, which has gained global attention for the negative environmental impacts from its production and human rights abuses on some plantations, continues to be used by food makers since it's much cheaper than other oils and has a long shelf life — plus it can be organically and sustainably produced if manufacturers want to enhance their image among consumers. That same marketing approach could be used for other specialty oils.
Food Business News noted that while more people are monitoring fats and oils in their food, this is particularly true of men, according to this year's Cargill "FATitudes" survey of 560 consumers completed in May. Women are typically seen as being more concerned about such issues, but Jaime Mavec, Cargill's marketing manager, told the publication that men seem to be catching up. Manufacturers of foods traditionally geared toward male consumers may want to call out their healthier oils on product packaging to appeal to these consumers. This would be a low-risk marketing investment since demand for clean-label foods is strong across genders.