“The story of canola is it has always been able to keep one step ahead of soybeans.”
– David Dzisiak
High-oleic canola oil, most of it from Canada, has dominated the growing North American demand for healthier, non-trans fat, deep-frying oils, but American soybeans are fighting back.
Last month the United States Department of Agriculture granted Monsanto’s new Vistive Gold soybean “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) status. Now companies can test Vistive Gold’s high-oleic oil in food, a prerequisite to commercialization, Monsanto said in a news release.
The announcement didn’t go unnoticed north of the border. While high-oleic soybean oil has the potential to compete directly with Dow AgroScience’s Nexera and Cargill’s Victory high-oleic canola oils, officials from both companies said they’re confident their oils can more than meet the new challenger.
ONE STEP AHEAD
“The story of canola is it has always been able to keep one step ahead of soybeans,” David Dzisiak, Dow AgroScience’s commercial leader, oils and grains group, said in an interview last week.
“We’ll have to see, but it certainly is a threat to the Canadian canola industry.”
“We’re not upset by this,” said Cargill spokesman Rob Meijer. “And a little competition is always healthy.”
Moreover, with the demand for healthy oils continuing to grow, there’s room for new players in the market, said Robert Hunter, the Canola Council of Canada’s vice-president of communication.
“I don’t think we see the Vistive soybean as a direct competitor, but something able to fill the void in this market,” he said.
That’s how Monsanto sees it too.
“There continues to be significant unmet needs for improved oils and we think Vistive Gold may provide an additional choice for food companies to meet their needs,” Monsanto Public Affairs spokesman Ben Kampelman wrote in an email.
High-oleic canola, like regular canola, has the lowest saturated fat content (seven per cent) of any edible vegetable oil. But high-oleic canola oil, also known as “high-stability” oil, provides many of the advantages of hydrogenated oil, such as an extended deep-frying life, without the trans fats created by hydrogenation.
Researchers believe trans fats contribute to heart disease and they have been banned in some jurisdictions. Since the U. S. government forced food companies to post trans fat levels on their labels in 2005, they’ve been seeking ways to remove them from their products.
Vistive Gold soybean oil will also be nearly trans fat free and just as low in saturated fat as canola oil.
Large fast-food companies like McDonalds and KFC have already switched to high-oleic canola oils.
Although soybean oil is still the largest vegetable food oil consumed in the U. S., use during the last five years has declined more than 15 per cent dropping to about 14 billion pounds a year from 18, Dzisiak said.
During the same period, canola oil use in the U. S. more than doubled to 2.7 billion pounds; an estimated 80 per cent or more was high oleic.
Nexera and Victory canola oils have a couple of things going for them. One is that many food companies have already switched to them. Because it affects the taste and nutrition of their products, companies do a lot of research before changing. It’s not impossible to switch again, but they’ll have to have a good reason, Hunter said.
Canola oil tastes good, said Dzisiak. The American palate is accustomed to the taste of hydrogenated soybean oil and the oil from Vistive will taste different, he said.
Canola produces more oil than soybeans – 45 per cent versus 18.
Canadian farmers know how to grow Nexera and Victory canola and acreage is expanding.
Meanwhile, Canadian crushing capacity has increased, including the doubling of Cargill’s crushing capacity at Clavet, Sask. Its new 750,000-tonne-a-year plant is dedicated to processing Victory canola, Meijer said.
And Canada has a proven track record when it comes to preserving the identity of higholeic oil through the handling system.
“That’s something we can’t dismiss as something easily introduced,” Hunter said. “The American soybean industry is massive and it’s not built to manage small, identity-preserved lots of grain. Canada has been able to do that. I’m not sure that I’ve seen that proven in the American system.”
Food processors want an oil that meets their needs, such as durability, taste and nutrition.
“They won’t buy it just because they like canola,” Dzisiak said. “We’re going to need to be competitive on the functionality, we’re going to need to be competitive on price.
Nexera and Victory canola are in it for the long haul. Both companies have invested a lot in developing their canolas and continue to do so. Dow AgroScience will introduce Nexera hybrids next year, which will boost yields.
The canola industry has had a very strong value chain that works well together,” Dzisiak said. “I think everyone is up for the challenge.” [email protected]