Millennial and younger consumers, in particular, seek to avoid overly processed foods and ingredients, potentially boosting the appeal of natural, unrefined oils.

KANSAS CITY — As consumers have become more comfortable discerning between fats and oils perceived as healthy and those perceived as unhealthy, many have expressed a greater willingness to consider and try fats and oils from non-traditional sources and with such perceived benefits as being non-bioengineered, organic or sustainable.

David Sprinkle, Packaged Facts
David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts

In its new report, “Food formulation trends: Oils and fats,” the market research company Packaged Facts forecasts that over the next few years, the foods most successful with younger consumers will be those that contain minimally processed fats and oils that are free of genetically modified organisms and may be organic. The report found that millennial and younger consumers, in particular, seek to avoid overly processed foods and ingredients, potentially boosting the appeal of natural, unrefined oils.

“This is the culinary revolution of the Instagram generation,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, Rockville, Md. “These young adults are unencumbered by the low-fat crazes of the 1990s and 2000s and do not have to overcome negative perceptions about fat in general. Instead, they are able to readily embrace and seek out specific plant-based and animal-based fats for their health benefits, including fat from avocados, olive oil, eggs, butter, and omega-3 rich fish such as salmon.”

Butter has reemerged on the heels of the clean label movement.

The impact may be seen in product introductions during the past few years. For example, The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., introduced its Simply Made cookies line in 2014 under its Keebler brand that features such basic ingredients as wheat flour, butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla. In November 2015 the company extended the line with the introduction of Simply Made Thins in chocolate chip and sugar cookie varieties. This past year McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., reformulated its Egg McMuffin sandwich with butter.

“Butter is reemerging because it gives a stellar performance as a familiar ingredient that facilitates clean and simple ingredient labels,” Mr. Sprinkle said. “For millennial and Gen Z consumers, the new normal is clean and simple labels.” 

Packaged Facts said it expects the popularity of plant-based specialty oils to benefit from increased availability of lesser known types of oil and wider, more mainstream, distribution of those already having established appeal. For all plant-based oils, continued interest in unrefined, cold or expeller-pressed oil is anticipated, the report said. The characteristics are important to millennials when it comes to selecting fats and oils for pantry-stocking, use in home-prepared dishes, purchased prepared and processed foods, as well as restaurant meals.

Findings from Packaged Facts’ National Consumer Survey, which was conducted between February and March of this year, shows olive oil is the only fat or oil used by more than half of Americans for cooking and food preparation. Others commonly used are butter, vegetable oil, canola oil and margarine, the report said.