There’s no denying the fact that fats and oils make foods taste better, especially when it comes to indulgent goodies such as a piece of rich chocolate cake slathered with a thick layer of buttercream frosting or crisp sea salt kettle chips with a side of creamy dip. In addition to enhancing flavor, fats and oils have many functional duties such as providing texture, particle suspension, mouthfeel, stability and shelf life in products, including sauces, dressings, bars, dairy products and more.
However, not all fats and oils are created equal, and today’s consumers are looking for products with healthy halos they can feel good about putting into their bodies. This demand is seen across nearly every food and beverage category, and brands are responding to the trend by delivering innovative products made with better-for-you fats and oils that don’t compromise taste or function.
Fat Is No Longer The ‘F’ Word
For years, fat has been maligned for its association to increased risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Unsaturated fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are generally associated with positive health benefits, while saturated fats are associated with negative health outcomes because they can increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. Trans fats have been linked to increased LDL and decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol.
However, the release of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) marked a key turning point for public opinion of the healthfulness of food by placing more emphasis on types of foods and eating patterns rather than an actual dietary component deemed a public health concern by past guidelines. Key recommendations included reducing trans fats and limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of daily calories.
The DGAs suggest a healthy eating pattern should include consumption of plant-based oils such as canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower, and oils naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocados. Tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel and palm were not included in the suggested healthy eating pattern because they have high amounts of saturated fatty acids and are therefore classified as solid fats rather than oils.
The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2018 Food & Health Survey revealed more than half of U.S. consumers view saturated fats as unhealthy, while nearly 70 percent of consumers understand the healthy benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Data from Packaged Facts’ 2017 “Food Formulation Trends: Oils and Fats” report found trans fats are avoided the most (35 percent) by consumers, followed by saturated fats (29 percent), partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, (24 percent), margarine (21 percent) and vegetable shortening (18 percent).
Where’s the Whitespace?
The sheer volume of products that debuted at Natural Products Expo West 2018 certainly is evidence that brands are answering the demand for natural, minimally processed foods and beverages made with recognizable ingredients. This trend was seen across numerous categories—Bakery; Cookies & Candy; Dairy; Condiments, Oils & Salad Dressings; Cereal & Breakfast; Diet & Nutrition; Drinks; Frozen Food; Sauces, Spices and Seasonings; and Snacks.
Analysis from New Hope Network’s NEXT Trend Database supports the industry’s shift to healthier fats and oils. Looking back at all products exhibited at Natural Products Expos from 2013 to 2017, New Hope’s NEXT Data & Insights team noted the number of products containing avocado, butter, coconut, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), palm, safflower, sunflower and vegetable oils witnessed 18 percent absolute growth over the period.
For more on this topic, download Food Insider Journal’s June 2018 issue “Natural Food Additives on the Rise.”