Edible oil evolution
Long the king of edible oils, soybean oil has had to defend its throne in recent years. Blame trans fat labeling, which became mandatory on U.S. food products in 2006 when trans fats were linked with greater risk of heart disease and other health problems.
New research findings confirmed partially hydrogenated oil was the trans-fat-causing villain, despite years of acceptance for hydrogenation because it made soy oil more stable during commercial frying and baking.
The threat to soybean demand was serious - but so was the desire to give consumers healthier food options. The industry responded.
Growers, seed companies, oil processors and food companies worked together to find a trans-fat-free solution. The response - high-oleic soybean oil - has the power to help rebuild market share and address consumer desire for healthier oils, cleaner labels and U.S.-grown products.
"If we can make healthier soybean oil, why not do it? We've got to think about our own health and the health of our kids," says producer Jake Sellner, who raises high-oleic soybeans with his father, Darrell, near Sleepy Eye, Minn.
Mike Fields tests about 40 soybean varieties on his farm each year. He says high-oleic varieties were #1 and #3 for yields in 2017. "These elite genetics perform well across a wide range of soil types and fertility conditions."
"High-oleic soybean oil launched seven years ago, and we've gained new users every year," says John Motter, Jenera, Ohio, past chair of the United Soybean Board and a producer of high-oleic soybeans. "I am excited about the market opportunity this brings to farmers, and I'm confident we can work with the industry to meet end-user demand."
"Farmers lost an estimated 4 billion pounds of annual soybean oil demand due to trans fat labeling," says Dave Mack director, CHS Processing and Food Ingredients. "The United Soybean Board and the soybean checkoff put a tremendous amount of work and investment into growing the high-oleic soybean market."
CHS facilities refine nearly 2 billion pounds of soybeans and canola each year. Nearly all the refined oil goes into bottled oil and other food products, including dressings, sauces and frozen foods. This CHS soybean crushing plant is located near Fairmont, Minn.
If the United Soybean Board and soy checkoff meets its long-term goal, high-oleic soybeans would become the fourth largest grain and oilseed crop grown in the United States, after corn, conventional soybeans and wheat.
"After dropping off soybeans at the Fairmont plant, I can load up with soybean meal for our hogs without having to pay freight." says Darrell Sellner.
CHS processing facilities have been producing high-oleic oil for two years, adding value for owners. "Its high stability and other attributes are well-suited for the marketplace," says Mack. "And food companies prefer getting healthy, versatile vegetable oil made from soybeans grown in the Midwest versus getting palm oil from Malaysia or another country."
CHS began offering production contracts for Pioneer brand Plenish high-oleic soybeans in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa in 2016. Having prior experience with identity-preservation programs, CHS had protocols in place for segregation at its crushing and refining operations in Fairmont and Mankato, Minn., and added 75 million pounds of crude oil storage.
"We are committed to investing in our oil capabilities because oil is the highest-value portion of the soybean on a pound-for-pound basis," says Tom Malecha, senior vice president, CHS Processing and Food Ingredients. "The key for us, whether it's high-oleic soybean oil or whatever comes next, is finding ways for CHS to add value and ensure our owners have access to good opportunities."
Soybean producers are rising to the challenge to produce more high-oleic beans.“Response to the contracts has been positive,” says Scott Erdal, director of processing risk
management for CHS.
“CHS has seen a 20 percent increase in acres contracted this year over 2017, and next year we’d like to double production,” says Erdal. “When there are premiums for certain crops and oils, it’s a positive situation for everybody in the cooperative system.”
Strong crop performance has been a bonus. “Emergence is good. They don’t lodge. And yield is right up there,” says Jake Sellner.
The Sellners, who also do custom harvesting for nearby growers, say their high-oleic beans yielded 10 to 15 bushels per acre more than conventional varieties. Now they’re all in with the high-oleic trait.
“Last year, we planted high-oleic beans on 75 percent of our soybean acres. This year we went 100 percent,” says Darrell Sellner. “Getting that higher yield and a premium definitely helps.”
Like the Sellners, Mike Fields has been rapidly increasing his contracted acres. “We planted 25 percent of our acres with Plenish seed the first year, and this year we’re planting it on 75 percent of our 11,000 soybean acres,” says the Minnesota Lake, Minn., grower.
Jake Sellner, left, and his father, Darrell, Sleepy Eye, Minn., raise both high-oleic soybeans and canola to make the most of the soil types and production schedules.
There are added steps to producing high-oleic soybeans, including segregating harvested beans, cleaning equipment between fields and handling beans a second time for delivery to the crushing plant during a specified time period. But the extra work pays off , says Fields.
“As farmers, our job is to grow food that makes everybody healthier,” he adds. “We’re growing this type of bean because it makes healthier oil, plus we can make an extra $25 to
$30 an acre.”
Consumer demand shifts
Consumers are paying closer attention to fat content in foods and many are steering clear of foods with labels that include long lists of chemical-sounding ingredients. High-oleic
soybean oil contains no trans fats, less saturated fat and three times more monounsaturated fatty acids than conventional soybean oil.
High-oleic oil is used in spray oils, shortenings, non-dairy creamers and other food products, where it is valued for its longer shelf life without the need for partial hydrogenation or artificial preservatives such as TBHQ and BHT.
A blended soy oil product called Mel-Fry® Original, which now includes high-oleic oil, has gotten “a hearty reception,” says Jeff Costa Bravo, director of category management for shortenings, oils, margarines and spreads for Ventura Foods, a CHS joint venture. “Our onsite fry evaluation tests at restaurants prove Mel-Fry Original lasts twice as long as commodity oils in the fryer. Doubling fry life provides sustainability benefits because it means half the oil waste and half the packaging waste.”
The updated oil also hits the sweet spot for performance and price. “It’s got great stability. It’s easy to clean up. It delivers consistent, evenly fried food without a greasy aftertaste. And it helps restaurant operators reduce costs, which is important as they face rising labor rates,” says Costa Bravo.
Demand is so strong that Ventura Foods plans to launch a private-label high-oleic soy blend with a leading foodservice distributor this year.
“High-oleic soybean oil is a win-win-win,” says Costa Bravo. “It’s good for foodservice operators. It’s good for processors and food companies. And it’s good for American farmers.”
Canola oil gains popularity
High-oleic canola oil has become the performance oil of choice for food processing and foodservice fryers due to its stability and zero-trans-fat profile, although Costa Bravo says that may change with the growth of high-oleic soy oil.
At the same time, demand for commodity canola oil is on the rise. CHS became a significant player in the canola category after purchasing a canola processing and refining plant near Hallock, Minn., in 2015.
“The plant adds value in a region where CHS has a strong footprint and history of serving growers,” says Mack. “And the investment let us expand our product offering. The U.S. canola oil market has increased threefold in recent years. Soybean oil and canola oil are often interchangeable, so adding canola processing helps us serve customers better with our product mix.”
Growers like the Sellners say they appreciate contracting with CHS to sell another crop in addition to soybeans. “Canola is a short-season oilseed that does well on our lighter, sandier soils,” says Jake Sellner. “We harvest it by August before the heat hits, and the straw makes good livestock bedding.”
“Canola complements our soybean crop,” Darrell Sellner adds, “and we like selling to a farmer-owned cooperative. It feels good to know we’re part of the company.”
What are trans fats?
Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats. Artificial trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid at room temperature. Partially
hydrogenated oils are the primary source of trans fats in processed foods.
Companies use trans fats because they give foods desired tastes and textures, last a long time, are inexpensive, and can be used multiple times in commercial fryers. Eating trans fats has been shown to increase bad (LDL) and decrease good (HDL) cholesterol levels, elevating the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.
Air fryers, aprons and avocadoes
“There will always be demand for commodity soybean oil in foodservice, but we’re seeing a decline in conventional oil demand on the retail side,” says Marci Needham, vice president of insights and category management for Ventura Foods.
Retail oil sales have been dropping due to:
- Smaller households
- Increased consumer use of delivered meal kits (such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh)
- Popularity of air fryers, a top seller on Amazon.com
"Consumers are focused on balanced, healthier eating,” says Needham. “They are more acutely aware of the ratio of saturated to mono- or unsaturated fats. Younger consumers are interested in ‘clean’ labels with kitchen pantry ingredients and no preservatives, chemicals or starches.”
Tapping into those trends, Ventura Foods has refreshed its product line with avocado oil and liquid coconut oil, two specialty oils that a growing number of consumers regard as healthful. It also introduced Smokehouse® 220 barbecue sauce with clean-label ingredients, replacing high-fructose corn syrup with sugar and using no caramel color, artificial flavors or preservatives.
The fatty acid profiles of various oilseeds give the resulting oils different qualities and performance characteristics. Changing food processor specifications and consumer
preferences are spurring transformations throughout the industry, from oilseed traits to food preparation techniques.
The rest of the bean
The long-term outlook is strong for soybean meal, a key byproduct of CHS soybean processing operations, says Scott Erdal, director of risk management, CHS Processing and Food Ingredients. “With more hogs being finished in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, local soybean meal demand has consistently grown by 3 to 5 percent annually.
“Hog integrators are growing in the Midwest to remain close to feed suppliers and pork processing plants because it’s more economical for their operations,” he adds.
Soybean meal produced from high-oleic soybeans was recently approved for export. Like meal from commodity soybeans, it contains 46 to 47 percent protein.