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Sunflower Oil:?A Bright Fit For Consumer Food Products

Tuesday, August 27, 2019
filed under: Utilization/Trade

         There is more competition in the oil market than ever before.  And there are more questions than ever before — including:  What are consumers asking for in an oil?  What is happening in the fats and oil sector and what value does sunflower oil have in the marketplace?  How does sun oil fit in meeting market demand?           
         Michelle Peitz provided answers to those questions and more at the 2019 NSA Summer Seminar.  Peitz, who has a food science degree and works in technical sales for ADM Oils, interacts directly with food manufacturers to optimize the oil selection for the end process and for the consumer.
         “There are many steps along the process from a sunflower seed to the oil we consume.  I want to talk about oil farther down the pipeline and what is driving demand from the food manufacturer’s standpoint and from the consumers’ perspective,” Peitz explained.  “When you think about it, the supply factor feeds one way along the pipeline, but a lot of what we do is driven by consumers and that eventually pushes all the way back to the producer.
       “Sunflower oil is a fantastic fit in the snack food market. There are a lot of reasons sunflower oil works so well,” she said.
       Peitz showed results of a survey done by ADM the week of June 10, 2019.  In it, nearly 3,000 adults ages 18 and over were surveyed to find out their perceptions of sunflower oil.  The survey found that most consumers have heard of sunflower oil, although olive oil and vegetable oil top the list of oils consumers say they have heard of.  Sunflower oil is on par with peanut oil and sesame oil when it comes to awareness levels. The survey also found that sunflower oil is a highly accepted ingredient on food and beverage packages. At 61%, it is on par with other oils that are perceived to be healthy, such as canola and avocado. When asked why they prefer sunflower oil, respondents said because it is a healthier oil, they like the taste, and it is versatile. Twenty-one percent of those surveyed admitted they have never tried sunflower oil.
       Peitz explained that while the survey showed consumers are not necessarily avoiding sunflower oil, they are also not using it as often as they’re using other oils. 
       “Familiarity and not knowing how to use it could be a barrier.  We can explore that as part of a follow-up study that digs deeper into attitudes and barriers.  People see ‘vegetable oil’ and they know what to do with that.  When they see ‘sunflower oil,’ they think they have to do something special with it.  It seems premium. 
       “It’s a matter of education, and showing people more uses for sunflower oil. Look at peanut oil.  It’s perceived that you fry your turkey in peanut oil.  Sunflower oil needs an association with a use like that.”
       As for the snack food industry, Peitz said 1,642 products with sunflower oil as an ingredient were launched in 2018. That’s down 3% from 2015; but prepared meals and meal replacement drinks have gained momentum as consumers look toward convenient meal solutions. 
       “Sunflower oil is an important ingredient to sauce and condiment and salty snack innovation around the world as well as here in North America,” said Peitz. “There is a lot of competition in the marketplace. Associating sunflower oil with cooking preparation methods such as basting, grilling, drizzling, flavor infusions and premium and artisan positioning could help stir up interest for sunflower oil.”
       Peitz said there are many reasons food manufacturers choose sunflower oil. Among them: consumer needs, flavor, nutrition, labeling, stability and shelf life. 
       “High-oleic sunflower oil is the most stable oil option out there when it comes to shelf life, heat stability and other reasons. It meets the needs for all of those when it comes to food manufacturers,” Peitz said. “There are a lot of ways you can check all of those boxes by using a high-oleic sunflower oil. Sunflower oil works really well for snacks. There are a lot of potato chips that use sunflower oil.  An ingredient list of potatoes, sunflower oil and salt looks really nice on a label.  If a manufacturer is making a non-GMO claim, they often choose sunflower oil.” 
       So why aren’t more manufacturers using sunflower oil?  Peitz says there are a lot of challenges facing the sunflower oil industry.  “There are a lot of choices in the oil world.  Cost, availability, logistics, where the oil comes from, what will show up on the label, as well as nutritional claims, are all things manufacturers consider and then pick what fits their needs best.  In North America, manufacturers can use what’s called a ‘flex label,’ which means they can label multiple oil choices and switch them out. For those who choose to label just one oil, change can be challenging. Label changes are often costly, and concerns around changing consumer experience can be a factor.”
       And when it comes to consumers, what they want is always changing — and where they get their information can be a challenge for manufacturers. 
       “For example, coconut oil has a health halo around it; and while nutritionists may not necessarily believe what consumers believe about coconut oil, perception can be reality and coconut oil has been perceived as very good,” Peitz explained. “Consumers have more access to information today, and there is a lot of information about healthy oils, [some of which] is real and some of it is not as real.  Food manufacturers may realize some of that information is not real, but consumers are pushing them to use certain products and they’re making changes based on what consumers want, whether that product is truly healthier or not.
       “I think sunflower oil has a really relevant story to tell right now,” Peitz stated.  “It has a value for food manufacturers looking for stability, and it is what consumers are looking for.  
“Is there enough awareness out there?  Could there be more? Consumers get bombarded with a ton of information, so it’s important they get hit with positive information about sunflower oil.  It has a great story to be told; it’s just a matter of bringing it all together in one happy package.” 
— Jody Kerzman
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