Bakers, snack makers and the customers they serve have set ambitious sustainability goals in recent years, working to reduce greenhouse gases and protect the environment with better farming and production practices. This includes the harvesting and processing of oils.

“The definition of sustainability has grown and changed significantly in recent years, particularly in the food industry,” said Diana Visser, senior director, sustainability, Corbion. “In the past, sustainability was often narrowly defined in terms of environmental concerns, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving natural resources and minimizing pollution. However, in recent years, the definition of sustainability has expanded to include a broader range of social, economic and ethical considerations.”

Those considerations include ensuring that farmers are paid fair wages and communities are not negatively impacted by food production, she added. Moreover, consumer interest in green practices and economic equity is on the rise.

“More than ever, consumers care about the standards behind the products they buy,” said Tai Ullmann, sustainability lead, global edible oil solutions, Cargill. “Our recent FATitudes survey, fielded in 2022, affirms this growing concern for the environment. The research, which tracks consumers’ awareness and behaviors around fats and oils found in packaged food, revealed that sustainability continues to gain importance in consumers’ food choices. We found four in 10 (41%) American shoppers said they were more likely to purchase products with a sustainable claim. This represents a 10-point increase compared to 2019 results and a 20-point jump since we launched the first FATitudes survey in 2013.”

And sustainability concerns have prompted some food producers to consider formulation changes, said Marie Shen, associate innovation scientist, Kemin Industries.

“Manufacturers are tasked with upholding companywide sustainability initiatives,” she said. “This has been a catalyst for formulators to either ensure that the oils they are using fit their company’s sustainability initiatives or to find an alternative supplier that meets their specific criteria and performs similarly.”

Companies that sell oils to bakers and other food producers have several ways to ensure their oils are sustainably farmed and processed. Practices at every point along the multi-step process must be evaluated.

“There is the growing of crops that includes land use, watering, pesticides and harvesting. Then there is the process of extracting the fats from the crops on a large scale,” Ms. Shen said. “All these steps have a profound impact on the environment. There is no one way to reduce the effect of these processes, rather it is a combination of many. In the growing process, farmers can focus on regenerative agriculture, crop rotation, collecting rainwater and using alternative methods for pest and weed control. In the production process, less harsh chemicals can be used to extract the fats to eliminate the amount of effect the processing waste has on the environment.”

With so many points to be evaluated, AAK studies its products’ supply chain carefully before making a detailed plan.

“It starts with mapping the supply chain to understand our supply base, the regions and suppliers we are sourcing from, as well as risks and issues related to the specific raw material,” said Caroline Westerik-Sikking, director of sustainability, AAK. “Based on this, we develop an action plan and work with three-year roadmaps to address the key issues. We engage to transform our suppliers and collaborate making better happen in the on-the-ground practices. We also support specific projects or public-private partnerships to address certain challenges.”

Epogee’s EPG, which is considered a fat alternative, is made with rapeseed oil, which is a renewable crop resource and biodegrades naturally, leaving no residues, said Jayme Caruso, chief commercial officer, Epogee.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Fats & Oils, click here.