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Groundbreaking Sun Oil Being Introduced

Monday, January 2, 2012
filed under: Utilization/Trade

There’s no question that Americans have a love affair with fat in their diet. But because of constant and persistent warnings from dieticians and the government, consumers are keenly aware of the negative impacts of saturated and trans fats on health and obesity.

Plant geneticists have been pumping out new oilseed genetics with lower saturates and higher oleic acids. Food companies have made real efforts to reduce the amount of trans and saturated fatty acids in processed products.

The high-oleic sunflower development decreased saturated fatty acids in the oil by 30% when compared to traditional sunflower oil. But work has been ongoing to reduce saturates further.

This past summer, Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences unveiled its “industry-first” trans and saturated fat-free Omega-9 Sunflower Oil. Omega-9 Sunflower Oil offers what you might call the “one-two punch” for the food industry: very low saturated fat with no effect on taste or functionality. For food manufacturers seeking solutions to meet increasing customer demand for healthier products, Omega-9 Sunflower Oil is one of the healthiest oils available.

This new oil is primarily oleic (omega-9) acid with total saturates of 3% or less. This gives the oil a high level of stability for food manufacturers. Food formulations will not require antioxidants or partial hydrogenation to achieve the desired shelf life, thus allowing for a cleaner ingredient label. Because Omega-9 Sunflower Oil is so low in saturates, most food company formulations will be able to claim “zero saturated fat” on the front of the label. The oil will begin to appear on retail shelves and in product formulations within the next three years.

Recent concept research found consumers preferred, by a five-to-one margin, a saturated fat-free label claim on a retail bottle of oil over the same product labeled without the claim. “This can truly impact purchasing behavior at the grocery store. It’s pretty amazing to offer an oil that’s virtually all ‘good’ fat,” explains David Dzisiak, commercial leader-grains & oils for Dow AgroSciences.

Omega-9 Sunflower Oil is all natural and can support an all-natural package claim, as the oil comes from NEXERA™ seeds that were developed by Dow AgroSciences through traditional plant breeding. The traits are created and then put into highly productive hybrid varieties already in the company’s breeding lines.

“We’re making progress converting existing leading hybrids,” says Dzisiak. “It’s an ongoing process, and we’re very confident that we’ll have strong material with a good agronomic package that growers are looking for.”

John Kalthoff, sunflower marketing specialist with Mycogen Seeds, says there are two hybrids that are leading the pack right now as the company continues introgression of the trait back into their top lines.

“Of the two promising hybrids, one is mid-maturity for Group 3 (regions of middle North Dakota and South Dakota), and the other is later maturity for Group 4 (southern North Dakota, South Dakota and the High Plains),” Kalthoff explains. “We are very pleased with the yield. Both are performing very well, similar to our conventional high-oleic products.”

The two hybrids appear to have the “complete package” with solid oil content. Kalthoff says more testing across varied environments needs to take place, however, before oil contents can be more accurately determined.

Though small-scale testing has been ongoing for years, Kalthoff says the next step will be large-scale planting trials this spring where people will have a chance to see the hybrids’ performance and for the company to verify that the qualities desired are present in the field.

Kalthoff adds that they anticipate planting seed will be available for grower contracts for spring 2013 in very limited quantities.

Both Kalthoff and Dzisiak say there has been great interest in the oil from the end user. Whether Dow will release parent material to other companies down the road, will be determined by demand. That decision is a ways off. As the breeding process progresses, Dzisiak says food manufacturers are testing and sampling new products using the prototype oil, which can be time consuming.

While the process is lengthy, the end result will be assisting consumers in making healthier choices to improve their diets — while still enjoying the food they love. “We’re excited about it,” Dzisiak adds. “We’re confident the oil will be successful in the marketplace.”

Consumers will continue to love fat in their diet, but they are “learning” to demand products that use healthy oils without compromising taste. Omega-9 Sunflower Oil won’t replace other products entirely, but now there’s an option for the first product in the world that qualifies for the “zero saturated fat” claim. It will be seen more as a specialty item and less mainstream.

The sunflower industry is always looking for ways of finding exclusive and premium markets. The more unique an oil for the marketplace, the better potential there is for producers — and the better potential there is in competing with other commodities for acres.

— Sonia Mullally
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