Sauces with rapeseed oil and muffins with palm fat: revolution in the supermarket due to the lack of sunflower

Mayonnaise with soybean oil, sauces made with rapeseed or rapeseed fat, preserves with more olive oil or muffins that incorporate palm fat again.

Sauces with rapeseed oil and muffins with palm fat: revolution in the supermarket due to the lack of sunflower

Mayonnaise with soybean oil, sauces made with rapeseed or rapeseed fat, preserves with more olive oil or muffins that incorporate palm fat again. The food industry is launching itself to reformulate ingredients and replace sunflower oil with more accessible ones due to the crisis of raw materials and food that has led to the war in Ukraine. Consumers are already in the supermarket with a change of labels of some references, something that is legal as long as it is indicated in the list of ingredients.

The war on European soil stopped the arrival of sunflower oil in our country. Dependence on imports from the Ukraine was very high, since before the war began, Spain received more than 60% of the sunflower oil from this area.

The industries that make appetizers, sweets or preserves continue to pull surpluses or reserves, but they are already beginning to try new ingredients that give the same consistency and palatability to their products.

Consequently, food labels begin to undergo changes that do not go unnoticed by consumers when they shop at the supermarket. On its website, Consum expressly informs about the reformulation of ingredients of some references. “The crisis in Ukraine is causing a general shortage of some raw materials such as seed/sunflower oil. In order to continue offering our products normally, some of our Consum brand suppliers have incorporated other oils already known and used previously, such as olive, soybean, palm or rapeseed oil, into the formulation of their products," reads the text addressed to chain customers. Likewise, Consum undertakes to recover the previous formulation of the products as soon as the international commercial situation allows it.

Among other fat substitutes, rapeseed oil or rapeseed oil is on the rise among manufacturers when it comes to replacing the liquid that arrived from Ukraine. Despite its bad reputation in Spain due to the scandal that occurred due to the manipulation and addition of toxic substances to this product in the eighties, the consumer organization OCU recalls that it is "a refined seed oil that has a composition of fatty acids very similar to that of olive oil'. In addition, rapeseed oil is a highly valued oil that is used very frequently in the rest of Europe, where its reputation is not as damaged as in our country.

The manufacturer Unilever also admitted it a few weeks ago when it reported that some of its mayonnaise had changed sunflower oil to soybean oil. In this regard, Ana Palencia, Director of Communication and Sustainability at Unilever, says that "the lack of supply of sunflower oil has led to the search for alternatives" for some of the brand's products.

In Unilever they declare themselves concerned about the possibility that inflation puts consumption in check. "It is possible that during the second half of the year there will be a decrease in demand for some products that are not essential as a result of less disposable income by consumers," warns Palencia.

The big question that fish and shellfish canners ask themselves is what will happen in September with both the war and the planned contingency plans. The National Association of Canned Fish Manufacturers (Anfaco-Cecopesca) explains that the industry is looking for new origins to bring sunflower oil, such as Malaysia or South Africa, among other solutions. Roberto Alonso, spokesman for Anfaco-Cecopesca, reports that in recent months they have saved the production that reaches the stores thanks to a greater use of olive oil in cans, as well as the reserves or surplus of sunflower that remained. "We are waiting to see what happens after the summer," Alonso emphasizes.

Likewise, there are canned food manufacturers who are preparing for a scenario of greater scarcity in the coming months and who have launched tests and reformulations with soybean oil. "The most important thing is to guarantee both quality and food safety to consumers," adds the same spokesman.

The person in charge of Food Safety and Quality of Aecoc, Xavier Pera, clarifies that finding an alternative fat and that the product preserves all its organoleptic properties of flavour, aroma and texture is not easy. "Faced with this situation, some companies have already changed the formulation of their products and others will do so if they see the supply of oil compromised," Pera warns. "Companies are looking for the best alternatives in each case, since the characteristics of the oils are not the same," adds the head of Aecoc.

Candy manufacturers speak of "a critical situation in which it is difficult to come up with a unique solution". In the midst of this perfect storm of runaway costs and raw material shortages, companies are looking for alternatives that can range from reviving old formulas to developing new recipes. Thus, from the Produlce association they point out that it is "a truly complicated task", since the organoleptic and general characteristics of these products must be modified "as little as possible" to guarantee that they continue to fit the consumer's tastes.

In this scenario of scarcity, the food industry asks Brussels for faster decisions to avoid risks in companies in the sector. "We cannot generalize about which specific oils are being used because each company does internal analysis according to the composition of its product and makes its decisions, information that is collected on the label," they say from the Snacks Association.

Precisely, labeling is an added difficulty. Sources from Produlce criticize that the flexibility that Spain has proposed does not really adjust to the productive reality of our country. «The Spanish authorities are the strictest since, in many cases, the proposed labeling solutions are directly inapplicable. This diversity of positioning by the Member States of the European Union places our companies in a position of competitive disadvantage", they specify from Produlce.

Pera, from Aecoc, agrees with the Produlce spokespersons on the difficulty of updating labels that provide information to the consumer "in such an uncertain and unstable context". "The problem is that the measures are not harmonized in the EU and that can interfere with the free movement of goods," she settles.

But, the problem is not only a lack of oil or wheat, there are also inflationary pressures due to the increase in the cost of food, electricity and fuel. Against this backdrop, manufacturers sharpen their imaginations to get the math out and replace product ingredients with cheaper ones. In this way, the brands do not reduce the volume of sales and the consumer does not notice the increase in the price of the shopping basket.

This would include cases in which sunflower or olive oil is replaced by another cheaper fat or ice creams that are beginning to be called frozen desserts by suppressing milk or cream. There are also sausages in which the amount of meat is reduced and this is replaced by starch, gelatin or even water.