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Ten Years of NuSun™

Sunday, January 15, 2006
filed under: Utilization/Trade: NuSun

In 1995, the National Sunflower Association took a bold step toward changing the fatty acid structure of sunflower oil, to focus more on the domestic market in anticipation of labeling requirements for trans fatty acids. Now, the industry change to the trademarked NuSun mid oleic oil is paying off.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stipulated that all food labels must list trans fat by January 2006. Trans Fat will be listed on a separate line in the Nutrition Facts Panel, underneath Saturated Fat. Products with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can be labeled as zero trans fat. Canada is adopting a similar rule, and food companies in both countries have been preparing by reformulating products and labels, with some food manufacturers shifting to trans free oils. Other countries are likely to follow this lead within the next several years.

It is estimated that about 80% of the 2005 U.S. sunflower acreage was either NuSun or high oleic. The oil from both of these seed types provides excellent frying and shelf stability without the need of hydrogenation (this is the chemical process that creates trans fats. Both saturated and trans fats raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The transition to NuSun over the past decade was gradual, as hybrid seed companies developed new hybrids and farmers watched carefully and experimented with the hybrids. although traditional linoleic sunflower is still produced, and continues to have an oil application niche, the industry has essentially completed its shift to NuSun and high oleic types. “The hybrids are excellent and the infrastructure is in place. We know the hybrids produce and we know the oil performs very well for food companies,” says John Sandbakken of the NSA staff and coordinator of the promotion projects.

Along with the promise of excellent cooking performance, another consideration in the transition to NuSun was the issue of human health. The NSA board of directors decided to test the oil against the “gold standard” of cooking oils – olive oil. A hamster study at the University of Massachusetts provided some good preliminary evidence suggesting that NuSun reduces plaque deposits in the arteries of hamsters and lowers cholesterol.

A more comprehensive second leg of the research was a human trial at Pennsylvania State University. Three groups of people with moderately high cholesterol were placed in a feeding trial with NuSun, olive oil and the average American diet.

The NSA was hoping that NuSun would do as well as olive oil in reducing cholesterol.

But the results were better yet – NuSun outperformed olive oil. The clinical health study showed that substituting two tablespoons of NuSun sunflower oil daily in place of saturated fat had a signficantly cholesterol-lowering effect than substituting a similiar amount of olive oil.

Findings of the groundbreaking Penn State University study were published in the July, 2005 Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The ADA Journal is the premier peer-reviewed journal in the field of nutrition and dietetics. With nearly 65,000 members, the American Dietetic Association is recognized as the nation’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. A summary of the health study can be found on the NSA website Click on the ‘Health and Nutrition’ link, then ‘Cardiovascular Benefit of NuSun Oil.’

Now, it’s a matter of awareness. “Everything has gone according to plan, now we need to spread the word about the benefits of this oil,” says NSA president Dean Sonnenberg of Fleming, Colo. The NSA board of directors has allocated over $200,000 for domestic promotion.

At the same time, the NSA has gained a similar amount from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service to promote the oil in Canada. Much of the emphasis will be to inform health journalists about the oil, so they in turn inform their readers in national journals. A portion of the budget will be available for joint promotions with customers of the oil.

“We will work every angle to squeeze the most out of the promotion dollars,” says Sandbakken. “We will utilize the great results from the Penn State study and key in all the great virtues of sunflower oil.”

The last step in the process is maintaining consistent acreage to meet customer needs year in and year out. “We cannot afford a repeat of the 2004 crop shortfall,” says Sonnenberg. “The market is going to have to ensure that the necessary acres get planted, and that is going to be a function of price and competitive returns to the grower.”

To assist in that process, the NSA board is conducting an acreage promotion campaign to remind growers that sunflower is a great rotation crop, and that it has performed well in terms of gross and net returns over the years. – Larry Kleingartner

Snacks and sun oil

When the NuSun concept originated 10 years ago, the potato industry was targeted as the best potential market opportunity

A number of snack food manufacturers have turned to sunflower oil in recent years not only to meet the new trans fat labeling requirement that goes into effect in January, 2006, but also because it’s a stable oil with good shelf life that fries well and imparts a desirable flavor.

When the NuSun concept originated 10 years ago, the potato industry was targeted as the best potential market opportunity. Over the years, the percentage of the nation’s potato crop used for processing has steadily increased. According to USDA, in 1959, only 19% of the crop was processed. In 1997, about 57% of the crop was processed. Now, only 28% is sold as fresh table stock, and over 70% of the nation’s potato crop is processed.

Processors used over 268 million cwt of potatoes from the 1997 crop, according to USDA, of which 61% was frozen (mostly as fries), 18% was chipped, 18% was dehydrated, and the remainder canned or used to produce starch or flour. Processing potato products in many cases involves the need for cooking oil, and sun oil, particularly NuSun, is a perfect answer, since it provides taste that consumers prefer, stands up to the rigors of continuous hot frying temperatures without breaking down, has a long shelf-life, does not need to be hydrogenated, and is low in saturated fatty acids.

Old Dutch one of the earliest sun oil users

The origin of Old Dutch Foods, Inc. as a snack food business goes back to 1934, started by one man in St. Paul, Minn., who peeled, sliced, and fried potato chips in his home, packaged them by hand and distributed the finished product to area retailers with his own car.

Today, Old Dutch Foods markets and distributes over 150 snack foods across the Midwest and Canada. The company’s Canadian operation employs over 900, with manufacturing plants in Winnipeg, Calgary, and Airdrie in Canada. Old Dutch has close to 500 employees in the U.S, with a production plant and headquarters in Roseville, Minn., and another production facility in St. Anthony, Minn.

Old Dutch is the second largest tortilla chip seller in North America, and uses nearly 44,000 pounds of potatoes each day to make potato chips. It was the first snack food company to produce a sour cream and onion flavored potato chip, and was one of the first snack food companies to begin using sunflower oil.

“We’ve been using sunflower oil for quite some time, going back to the 1970s for potato chips,” says Steve Aanenson, president and owner of Old Dutch. “It’s a mild oil with a distinctive flavor that helped distinguish us.” The company began frying snack foods with NuSun oil when it came on the market in the 1990s, and it uses high oleic sunflower oil as well, as a replacement for coconut oil.

A number of other snack food makers have since started using sunflower oil, some because of the trans fat labeling requirement. Aanenson says Old Dutch – as a longtime user of naturally trans fat free sun oil – is one of the first food manufacturers to become compliant with the new labeling law.

Old Dutch doesn’t stray from using sun oil in making its popular line of kettle-cooked potato chips – a premium product in which a more stable oil like sun oil is needed. However, the company blends with other cooking oils when sun oil supplies become too tight and prices too high. “We like the oil and prefer to be doing 100% of our products with it, but economics means that’s not always the case.” Aanenson is one end user who is hoping North American sunflower acreage will continue to increase, to help ensure supply. – Tracy Sayler

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