A big push into the lucrative high-oleic market is now happening with sunflowers, but a senior marketer says the goal isn’t to land a giant food processor.
“The ideal mix is a bunch of small users,” Archer Daniels Midland sunflower merchandiser Guy Christensen told the Manitoba Special Crops Symposium.
“It’s a much more stable and predictable market.”
High oleic vegetable oil is a premium product on the leading edge of high-value food trends, with the canola, soybean and sunflower sectors all hoping to grab as much market share as possible.
Canola’s success has been huge, with Nexera gobbling up sales to food processors. High oleic soybean varieties are just now easing their way into the market.
Sunflowers were an early winner, becoming the sole source of oil for some Frito-Lay chips in the 2000s with its mid-oleic, low saturated fat varieties and then its high-oleic types.
However, the crop lost its exclusivity when limited crop production and price spikes prompted the company to start using a mix of oils, dominated by high-oleic canola.
The decision rocked the sunflower industry, and Christensen said having many steady users rather than one big giant will probably provide a more stable future.
Now that high-oleic sunflower production is surging, Christensen said the industry’s goal should be to take advantage of canola’s success and make sure it is part of the high-oleic trend.
“We have the profile, so we can piggyback,” he said.
High-oleic sunflowers are non-genetically modified, which might turn out to be a marketing edge.
Christensen said many small food manufacturers would like to be able to market a GM-free product where labels are required.
“It’s going to fly off the shelf,” he said.
However, food companies need to list sunflower oil on their packaging if more sunflower oil sales are to be achieved, and some have balked at that. Christensen said the American sunflower industry has made it a priority to get sunflower oil on more labels,
Increasing production of high-oleic sunflowers shouldn’t be hard because they are not covered by the same patent protections that control GM crops. The main challenge will be to keep oilseed sunflower acreage sufficiently large to ensure processors that the oil will always be available.
Christensen said the United States and Canada need to grow 1.5 to two million acres of oilseed sunflowers to meet demand.