December 06, 2002
Large food companies cannot depend on population growth to achieve revenue goals. The consumer must be compelled to buy more expensive (and profitable) items on the grocery shelf for health, flavor or convenience attributes.
Making a more healthy product will certainly differentiate it. Nutritional supplements and healthy sounding food additives are adding value to everything from breakfast cereal to dressings and spreads. Olive oil and other healthy fats can be just the ingredient to add value and profits. The ultimate example is Olivio, a spread made with olive oil.
Olive oil has gained market share over the seed oils because of its health aspects and in spite of its price is seen advertised as a "healthy" ingredient in some products. Olive oil may be seeing some competition.
There is a new generation of "healthy fats". Some are combinations of plant fats which pool their salubrious attributes. Others are genetically modified oils with enhanced antioxidant and nutrient content.
Olive oil and canola are primarily mono-saturated fats and have been shown to have heart healthy and anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil can satiate quickly, leading to lower total calories ingested and has antioxidants which have a variety of beneficial effects. Fish oils are high in omega-3 lipids and have been shown to lower cardiac disease. Mustard oil, hemp oil, grape seed oil and many other vegetable oils have been shown to be healthy. Combinations of these oils could offer multiple benefits.
Forbes Medi-Tech Inc. has announced the results of its latest designer cooking oil clinical trial. While fats and oils usually contribute to body weight gain, Dr. Peter Jones, one of the researchers, said the oil will actually cause weight loss. Forbes' designer oil is formulated with medium chain triglycerides, plant phytosterols, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
McGill University in Montreal researchers placed 24 obese males on a diet of the "designer" cooking oil or olive oil for 28 days. The designer oil group showed a significant decrease in total body weight - about 1 pound in 28 days. The designer oil diet also lead to a 16.3 percent drop in LDL or "bad" cholesterol.
"These oils are oxidized very quickly and burned as energy rather than stored as body fat" Jones said. The company is stressing the health benefits and says little about flavor. The oil is for cooking, not to be used as a condiment as some high end olive oils are.
Other companies are in this market. Japan-based Kao Corp. has developed "Healthy Econa Cooking Oil" which it claims lowers cholesterol. The main ingredient is diacylglycerol, a vegetable sterol, which slows the increase of blood triglycerides to help prevent obesity. Take Control, Flora pro.activ and Benecol all contain plant sterols extracted from soybeans or other sources which have shown to lower LDL cholesterol in several studies.
Another "healthy oil", Soyola, is made from specially bred soybeans with reduced levels of both linolenic and palmitic acid and increased levels of oleic acid, a monosaturated fat found at high levels in olive and canola oils. Soyola was being pushed as a food ingredient.
So if olive oil isn't the cheapest oil and isn't the healthiest oil, what marketing angle still exists? Olive oil has cultural and historical appeal which the new oils can't match. Extra virgin olive oil is not refined, a selling point with some consumers. And of course olive oil actually has a flavor - something the industry could do more to promote.