As consumers have become more comfortable discerning between fats and oils perceived as healthy and those perceived as unhealthy, many have expressed a greater willingness to consider and try fats and oils from non-traditional sources and with such perceived benefits as being non-bioengineered, organic or sustainable.

In its new report, “Food formulation trends: Oils and fats,” the market research company Packaged Facts forecasts that over the next few years, the foods most successful with younger consumers will be those that contain minimally processed fats and oils that are free of genetically modified organisms and may be organic. The report found that millennial and younger consumers, in particular, seek to avoid overly processed foods and ingredients, potentially boosting the appeal of natural, unrefined oils.

“This is the culinary revolution of the Instagram generation,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. “These young adults are unencumbered by the low-fat crazes of the 1990s and 2000s and do not have to overcome negative perceptions about fat in general. Instead, they are able to readily embrace and seek out specific plant-based and animal-based fats for their health benefits, including fat from avocados, olive oil, eggs, butter, and omega-3 rich fish such as salmon.”


The impact may be seen in product introductions during the past few years. For example, The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., introduced its Simply Made cookies line in 2014 under its Keebler brand that features such basic ingredients as wheat flour, butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla. In November 2015 the company extended the line with the introduction of Simply Made Thins in chocolate chip and sugar cookie varieties. This past year McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., reformulated its Egg McMuffin sandwich with butter.

“Butter is reemerging because it gives a stellar performance as a familiar ingredient that facilitates clean and simple ingredient labels,” Mr. Sprinkle said. “For millennial and Gen Z consumers, the new normal is clean and simple labels.” 

Packaged Facts said it expects the popularity of plant-based specialty oils to benefit from increased availability of lesser known types of oil and wider, more mainstream, distribution of those already having established appeal. For all plant-based oils, continued interest in unrefined, cold or expeller-pressed oil is anticipated, the report said. The characteristics are important to millennials when it comes to selecting fats and oils for pantry-stocking, use in home-prepared dishes, purchased prepared and processed foods, as well as restaurant meals.

Findings from Packaged Facts’ National Consumer Survey, which was conducted between February and March of this year, shows olive oil is the only fat or oil used by more than half of Americans for cooking and food preparation. Others commonly used are butter, vegetable oil, canola oil and margarine, the report said.

Ingredient suppliers respond

Shifting consumer purchasing patterns have attracted the attention of fats and oil suppliers, and many have updated their product portfolios to reflect the potential demand for varieties with added benefits.

Cargill, Minneapolis, said in early March it has expanded the varieties of Non-GMO Project verified ingredients available to the market and introduced an identity preservation process in order to add more transparency to its production processes.

Oil varieties added to the company’s non-G.M.O. product line include mid-oleic sunflower oil, Clear Valley high-oleic canola oil and soybean oil.

“Cargill is uniquely positioned to help our customers translate growing consumer demand for non-G.M.O. products into profitable growth,” said Lea Buerman, food safety, quality and regulatory manager for Cargill. “Cargill’s combination of the industry’s broadest portfolio of non-G.M.O. ingredients, well-established crop sourcing programs and our KnownOrigins identity preservation process enables our customers to scale production with confidence and get to market quickly with new non-G.M.O. products.”



The KnownOrigins program features such protocols as traceability back to the producers of raw materials like soybeans, corn and high-oleic canola, according to Cargill. Testing to ensure ingredients are non-G.M.O. will be done on either harvest bin composites, incoming truck deliveries or finished ingredients depending on the raw material variety.

This past January, Bunge North America, St. Louis, said its Whole Harvest subsidiary was expanding its non-G.M.O. oil capabilities by adding plants in Modesto, Calif., and Oakville, Ont. The two plants allow the company to offer more soybean and canola oils verified by the Non-GMO Project.

Oils sourced from algae trending

The Archer Daniels Midland Co. recently introduced Onavita DHA algal oil. Onavita DHA algal oil is the newest addition to ADM’s omega-3 product line, which also includes Onavita ALA from non-G.M.O. flaxseed oil.

“This latest expansion of our natural health and nutrition portfolio is another exciting measure in our continued commitment to provide product developers the solutions they need to create better-for-you consumer-preferred products,” said Mike Zora, general manager of nutrition and health for ADM. “When customers combine the Onavita product line with the benefits of ADM’s reliable supply chain and our unrivaled portfolio of ingredients and flavor and color systems, we can help them bring new, innovative products to market quickly to meet the growing demand from health-conscious consumers.”

The company said the Onavita DHA algal oil may be used in a variety of fortified food products and provides vegan and allergen-free labeling options for product developers. Applications range from toddler nutrition, beverages and dairy products, according to the company.

TerraVia Holdings, Inc., San Francisco, said it has received a Generally Recognized As Safe no questions letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its algae butter. The ingredient is a palm-free, non-hydrogenated, vegan solution for bakery, spreads and confectionery applications, according to the company.

“The food industry has been searching for a replacement for palm and hydrogenated vegetable oils that maintains quality, taste and functionality and also meets their rigorous criteria for sustainable sourcing,” said Mark Brooks, senior vice-president of TerraVia. “We believe algae butter is a game changer for the structuring fats industry in terms of sustainability and nutrition.”

The company will begin commercialization of the ingredient through its joint venture partnership with Bunge North America.

“We are excited to be offering this innovative solution as an additional choice to our food service and food processor customers in the U.S.,” said Mark Stavro, senior director of marketing, Bunge North America. “The potential of the product to meet so many on trend demands has been met with strong levels of interest from a number of our food customers.”