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Sun Oil Splash

Monday, January 6, 2014
filed under: Utilization/Trade

Seeing a bottle of sunflower oil on a store shelf might not seem like a big deal to most people. But to a sunflower producer, it’s a sight for sore eyes. That’s because for the past 10 years, it’s been tough to find a bottle of sunflower oil on store shelves.

That’s changing. A new kind of bottled sunflower oil is now available in Walmart Supercenters across the United States.

The Great Value sunflower oil started showing up on shelves in Walmart Supercenters a few months ago. That’s a big deal for a couple of reasons: (1) Walmart has more than 3,000 Supercenters across the U.S., meaning people throughout the country now have a place to purchase sunflower oil. (2) A 42-oz bottle sells for just $3.68, making the Great Value brand of sunflower oil affordable.

But perhaps the best things about seeing a bottle of sunflower oil on the shelves at Walmart are the sense of pride and the consumer awareness that bottle brings. “There is an obvious benefit when someone purchases a bottle; but there is also a benefit of the consumer who sees the bottle and wants to learn more,” says Minnesota grower and National Sunflower Association President Kevin Capistran. “Maybe after seeing sunflower oil on the shelf they ‘google’ sunflower oil. The more they learn about our oil, the more likely they are to want it in the food they purchase and consume. Broader consumer awareness leads more food manufacturers to use sun oil in their formulations. In a way, it’s grassroots advertising.”

“It’s just great to see it on the shelves and know that I had something to do with that,” says Kansas producer and NSA board member Karl Esping. “We don’t always see the end result of the crops we grow, so seeing that on the shelf is really cool.

“And it’s a great way to spread the word about sunflower,” Esping adds. “I was in Walmart the other day and struck up a conversation with a couple of ladies in line ahead of me. They didn’t know about sunflower oil or the health benefits, so we talked about that. Without that bottle of sunflower oil in my hand, that conversation never would have happened.”

And the health benefits of sunflower oil are many. Sunflower oil is light in taste and appearance and supplies more Vitamin E than any other vegetable oil. It is a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with low saturated fat levels.

Sunflower oil is valued for its light taste, frying performance and health benefits. This is especially relevant now, in light of the FDA’s recent proposal regarding trans fats in food. Public health advocates have argued for years that trans fat clogs arteries, raises cholesterol and leads to serious health problems. The American Heart Association, the American Medical Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest all praised the most recent FDA announcement. Further reducing trans fat in the American diet could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart attack annually, according to FDA.

Why is this good news for sunflower producers? Sunflower oil produced in the United States is naturally trans fat-free. In fact, sun oil is actually a healthier choice than even olive oil. A Penn State study compared NuSun® to the average American diet and to an olive oil diet. The study concluded that substituting two tablespoons of NuSun sunflower oil daily in place of saturated fat lowered cholesterol more significantly than when substituting olive oil. In addition, the NuSun diet may have lowered total and bad LDL cholesterol levels more than the olive oil diet because NuSun sun oil is higher in polyunsaturated fat. The FDA proposal provides an opportunity for sunflower producers to gain more market share.

The bottled sunflower oil available at Walmart is a mid-oleic sunflower oil, which outshines other oils because it is low in saturated fat, has a great taste and offers superior performance, while remaining trans fat free. Cooks recognize the versatility of this healthy oil internationally. The sunflower oil sold at Walmart is made from U.S.-grown sunflower, from states like North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Colorado.

“Sunflower oil is a premium oil, but we need to offer it at an affordable, competitive price. That’s what Walmart has done,” says Esping. “Some marketing experts believe if you have a great product, then price is not an issue. I disagree, especially when you’re talking about a food item. It’s important to offer a good product at a good price, something people can actually afford to put in their grocery cart.”

The FDA has a 60-day comment period, which began November 8, to collect additional input on trans fat. The National Sunflower Association will provide comments to the FDA. For more information, visit

Meantime, maybe those bottles of sunflower oil on Walmart’s shelves will convince a few more farmers to plant sunflower in 2014. “It could be argued that growers are more likely to plant sunflower when they realize the demand for the product is broad-based and robust,” Capistran observes. “I think growers realize that a broad demand for a product means price stability. If you grow for a very small market segment, you run the risk of a good crop collapsing prices.

“So maybe bottled oil in Walmart isn’t as big a deal as the FDA trans-fat ruling or GMO-labeling laws. But it is one of a number of steps that could move the industry toward an increasing share of a growing ‘healthy oil’ market segment.” And that’s a market segment that could benefit sunflower producers, one bottle at a time. — Jody Kerzman

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