Processors Prepare for Reformulation War on PHOs

The FDA announcement spurs development of palm oil and other replacement blends.

By Jill Russell Qualizza, Contributing Editor

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soybeans and oilProducers are preparing for a possible reformulation war pending the FDA's final announcement that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) and trans fats in processed foods no longer are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).

Organizations, including the American Soybean Association, International Foodservice Manufacturers Association and National Restaurant Association officially entered comments urging FDA to reverse its decision and not withdraw GRAS status. The American Baking Association called the ban “unlawful and unnecessary” in its comment response asking FDA to modify the ban.

While the extended comment period for FDA’s preliminary decision to ban PHOs and trans fats closed March 8, producers aren’t waiting for the final ruling. Instead they’ve been busy reformulating products and testing new oils and blends … and have been since FDA's labeling regulation for trans fat in 2006.

Loders Croklaan, for instance, has specialized in natural palm oil as a versatile alternative for PHO for the past 10 years. The company says the naturally semi-solid oil is an excellent alternative to any semi-solid PHO, making it a popular solution for the baking and snack industries.

So much so that Loders Croklaan has doubled the capacity of its palm oil plant to meet the needs of the food industry and in anticipation of a total removal of PHOs. And to further promote innovation and accelerate time to market for its customers, the company recently opened its Creative Studio outside Chicago, to provide an environment that fosters creativity for its customers.

“Palm oil is rapidly growing in popularity as the most versatile natural alternative to PHOs,” says Gerald P. McNeill, and vice president of research and development at the firm's Channahon, Ill., U.S. base.

“Palm oil trees grow in tropical climates and produce 10 times more oil per acre compared to an acre of soybeans. The trees are not genetically modified, and traditional breeding techniques advance yield and quality. Ever-increasing population and wealth in the world is driving more demand for food, and the incredible ability of palm oil to generate edible oil will be a critical component of the global food supply in the coming decades,” he says.

John Satumba, director of oils research and development-food ingredients for Cargill Inc., Wayzata, Minn., agrees with that rosy assessment of palm oil, but includes other oils as ready replacements.

“To find oils that deliver the same functionality and sensory profile as PHOs has been a challenge to some in the industry, but we’re seeing a lot of high stability oils being used, including canola and soybean oil," he says. "Palm oil is used as a replacement for products that need high solid fat content, and for certain applications, like frying, as a blend with solid oils.”

To support the production of palm oil, the company recently launched the Cargill Tropical Palm Learning Academy in March 2013. The Indonesian-based facility provides leadership training and technical programs on palm oil production. In addition, Cargill expanded production by 35 percent of Lévia, a line of fats with reduced trans and saturated fats, at two of its Brazilian plants to meet consumer and customer demands.

The challenge, Cargill says, is that there isn’t a single drop-in solution to replace PHOs. “PHOs have been an industry wide work-horse for decades because of their unique ability to not only impart extended shelf life to products, but concurrently deliver desirable textural and sensorial attributes. Some alternatives for PHOs will require product formulation adjustments. We know that consumers are looking for healthier alternatives, non-genetically modified options and fortified foods that offer more function than just a caloric benefit, like omega 3,” Satumba says.

“We’ve been working with our customers for a very long time on this. We’ve been on the journey of trans reformulation for than a decade and we have the solutions available for they industry,” he continues. “Fats and oils play a critical role in human physiology and diet. The announcement by the FDA was a catalyst for what we see as the home stretch in the PHO reformulation run for the industry. We’re ready to help our customers win this reformulation war.”

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