Making the Grade
Tuesday, August 1, 2000
filed under: Utilization/Trade
Some things just seem to go together - like pizza and beer . . . cookies and milk . . . and, NuSun and potatoes? Indeed, it's becoming apparent that NuSun and potatoes are a perfect match.
The cover photo on this issue of The Sunflower displays a few regional and national brands of potato chips that are using NuSun. When the NuSun concept was born five years ago, the proud parents of the idea targeted the potato industry as the best potential market opportunity. Why? Because the potato chipping industry needs an oil which provides taste that consumers prefer. An oil that will stand up to the rigors of
continuous hot frying temperatures without breaking down. An oil that will provide the chip a long shelf-life, does not need to be hydrogenated, and is low in saturated fatty acids. There have been only two oils of significant volume that can meet most of those rigorous requirements: corn and cottonseed.
NuSun meets all of these requirements. And the oil received a huge vote of confidence this summer when Procter & Gamble announced it was switching its "Pringles" line of potato chips to NuSun for all its markets in North and South America, parts of Europe, and Asia. Pringles product manager Joel Evans said at the National Sunflower Association Summer Seminar that Procter & Gamble "would rapidly become the number
one customer of NuSun."
It was a ringing endorsement from a food industry giant.
More Pringles are sold worldwide than any other potato snack brand. Procter & Gamble is a well-recognized consumer product manufacturing and distribution company with global operations.
Furthermore, Proctor & Gamble has a reputation in the food industry as a company that does its homework before marketing and promoting its products. Indeed, P&G's Evans says consumer tests proved to them that consumers prefer the taste of Pringles when fried in NuSun. The oil passed all other tests of functionality and shelf-life in the year and a half the company spent testing it.
The National Sunflower Association committee that guided the NuSun project along over the past five years could only dream about a national brand commitment to help put NuSun on the product map.
Yet the Pringles development does just that. Scott Nelson, NSA president and a farmer from northeastern North Dakota, equates it to the respected farmer in the neighborhood who everyone watches. "When that farmer decides to try a new crop or a new piece of equipment, the neighbors watch closely and begin to make similar plans for the following season."
The entire potato chip and snack industry is near and dear to NuSun. It is a huge market which has been growing "leaps and bounds" over the last few decades. The U.S. potato chip market alone was $4.69 billion in 1999 (compared to the tortilla chip market value of $3.75 billion), with a growth rate of five percent, reports the Snack Food Association.
NuSun is fast establishing a unique relationship with potatoes. Most NuSun is grown and processed right in the middle of one of the largest potato-producing centers in the United States, according to Kevin Cramer, head of the North Dakota Department of Economic Development an Finance. "The Upper Midwest has generated a lot of potato-related processing in the last several years. Having a preferred frying oil produced and refined right in the heart of potato country is that 'hand-in-glove' relationship," Cramer states.
The Next Step
It was just five years ago that the NuSun concept was initiated. Since that time, hybrid seed companies have worked feverishly on developing NuSun hybrids with all the agronomic characteristics that farmers expect and need, plus the important oil characteristics that make up NuSun. It has been a tall order, but more and more hybrids are now available for farmers to choose from.
Every segment of the industry - from producer to refiner - has been part of the NuSun transition team. Maintaining quality standards and providing an adequate supply of oil at competitive prices is what the potato/snack industry needs to have.
At the other end of the spectrum is the producer, where it all starts. For producers, it is a matter of hybrid performance, competition with other crops - and price. Price is the key. When the NuSun idea originated, it was clear that using export subsidies to maintain
marketshare was going to be short-lived. Being the cheapest world oil did not generate much enthusiasm. Producing an oil with desirable characteristics for the domestic frying industry is far more appealing.
Producers react to price in their planting decisions. So far, the premium paid to producers for NuSun has varied between 40 and 80 cents per hundredweight over traditional sunflower. Will that premium increase or decrease? It is just too early to tell at this time since the volume produced is still too small to really test the market.
The marketplace is very competitive. If NuSun becomes too expensive, customers will look to alternative oils. If the price to farmers is too cheap, they will opt for other crops. The marketplace determinines what the final value will be, and the marketplace will sort this out.
Still, Procter & Gamble's commitment, along with usage by several regional chippers, is seen as a very good sign for the future of NuSun. - Larry Kleingartner
MAKING THE GRADE
Putting NuSun sunflower seed into the right bin is important not only for the producer to ensure a premium; it is equally important to the crusher and the oil buyer.
The NuSun buyer needs to have oleic levels above 55 percent, and ideally, closer to 65 percent. Frying tests have shown that a mid-60s oleic acid level provides the best results in the fryer (for potato chips) and the best product shelf life.
The key to the "right bin" is knowing what comes into the elevator. A National Sunflower Association committee has been working on this issue for several years, and it appears a hand-held refractometer is the best option at the country elevator. A refractometer is relatively inexpensive (around $300) and provides a reasonably good reading if care is taken in sample preparation. This year, most country elevators should be equipped with the hand-held refractometer. The instrument will be used to check seeds when the producer brings them into the elevator. The refractometer will not
provide an exact numerical oleic number, but it will clearly show if the seeds are traditional linoleic sunflower, or if the NuSun has been mixed in.
Sampling Steps -
North Dakota Grain Inspection Service, Inc. (NDGIS) will provide sample
bottles of NuSun oil to country elevators, along with a brochure describing the procedure. This NuSun calibration oil will be used to calibrate the handheld refractometer.
The next step is to collect a representative sample of the load. That means probing to the bottom of the load in several locations, mixing that seed and selecting the sample size from that mix. The sample must be free from foreign seeds and at room temperature, according to Lori Grieger, grain inspector for NDGIS at Enderlin, N.D.
Oil will be extracted from the sample using a small hydraulic press. Grieger suggests using the full volume of the press's extraction cup to allow for a representative sample. Several drops of the oil will be placed on the refractometer lens, and the reading is compared to the reading taken from the NuSun calibration oil.
The reading will indicate if the sample is oleic or traditional linoleic seed. If the reading is inconclusive, the elevator operator will want to repeat the test or even resample the load. If the second test is inconclusive, Grieger recommends that the elevator send a seed sample to one of the crushing plants for a more sophisticated test, which can be done very quickly.
Oleic Consistency Imperative -
Some hybrid seed companies are providing a grower guarantee that their hybrids will make the oleic grade, i.e., a minimum of 50 percent this year. That level goes to 55 percent in 2001, and seed companies have been breeding their NuSun varieties to ensure a higher oleic level.
However, more than just hybrids goes into determining oleic levels. Growing season conditions can also influence final oleic acid percentages, according to Jerry Miller, USDA-ARS sunflower geneticist at Fargo, N.D.
Much of the 1999 Northern Plains sunflower crop did not have enough season to fully mature. The last half of August/early September was cooler than average. "We know that fatty acids are the last factors that the plant puts into seed," says Miller. "It appears that the warmer the season, the higher the oleic level, and the lower the linoleic level. Kansas and Colorado, for example, produce a higher oleic level even in the traditional varieties." Miller says seed companies are making good progress in a seed that has a stable oleic acid level regardless of temperature.
Oleic acid is a major trait contributing to shelf-life. Monica Pallarito, research associate at Procter & Gamble, says "55-percent oleic levels are acceptable, 60 percent is preferred, and 65 percent is ideal." However, Pallarito says that higher oleic levels of 75 percent
do not provide the necessary taste requirements for the Pringles product.
Clearly, the success or failure of opening new domestic markets for NuSun - such as the Procter & Gamble usage - is maintaining a consistent level of oleic acid in the mid-60s range. - Larry Kleingartner