Oils and fats are essential for human nutrition and health. They are important components in most foods and beverages because they deliver energy, essential fatty acids and flavor, among many other things. However, the oil and fat sector is facing new demands and unprecedented challenges as our food system is rapidly evolving to include alternative protein products. The industry needs new and complementary approaches to deliver the solutions that the people and the planet deserve.
MISTA is a multi-dimensional innovation platform created to accelerate food tech innovations. It works with a consortium of large food and ingredient companies and start-ups. During a recent Fireside Chat held in March 2022 for its members, MISTA led a panel discussion on the future of oils and fats. Below are a few highlights of the new approaches and technologies that could reshape the oil and fat industry.
Challenges and opportunities with oils and fats
Let’s start with a few definitions: oils and fats are lipids, a class of organic compounds that are fatty acids or their derivatives and are insoluble in water. Oils are liquid at room temperature, and fats are solid. Note that beyond their use in foods, oils are also central to many other industries (chemical, biofuel, personal care, etc.), but this won’t be covered in this entry.
The oil and fat industry has historically relied on animal and plant derived fats and oils and has developed a large portfolio of products and ingredients over the decades. However, the current offerings don’t provide solutions to satisfy all of the food industry’s evolving needs. An emblematic example of this mismatch is the food industry’s addiction to palm oil, which is increasingly rejected by consumers on sustainability grounds, and has a limited range of affordable, scalable, healthy and ethical solutions to replace it. The food industry is also following macro trends calling for innovations, such as the need for vegetable fats and oils able to deliver the melting profile and sensory attributes of animal fats for plant-based meat products.
The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine further exposes the fragility of the vegetable oil supply chain as these two countries produce and export over 70% of sunflower oil. This adds to the already limited soy oil supply due to drought in South America and constrained palm oil supply squeezed by Indonesia’s export curbs. This perfect storm is leading vegetable oil prices to sky rocket.
It does seem that the oil and fat industry is ready for a shakeup, doesn’t it?
New approaches to oils and fats – the technology landscape
If you have been reading the food innovation press recently, you have likely noticed a flurry of announcements related to milestones and funding events for multiple start-ups in the oils and fats arena (e.g. Zero Acre Farms raised $37M, Yali Bio raised $4M, and Lypid raised $4M, to mention just a few).
To help visualize the space, MISTA has developed a simple framework to articulate the oil and fat technology landscape. During the mapping of this ever evolving field, over 40 new technology companies have been identified. Only some of them are represented on this chart, or mentioned below for illustrative purposes. If we missed you or misclassified you, please reach out and let us know 😉
At a high level, the fat and oil sector can be broken down into 4 main quadrants based on the origin of the ingredients, as illustrated in the chart below.
MISTA exists to help transform the global food system to meet the needs of the future. We can only rejoice that the topic of the future of oils and fats has finally grabbed the attention of the food industry, the consumers, the investors and the technology innovators. We are convinced that multiple solutions will have to be developed, scaled and commercialized to help transform the way we produce food. We are not here to pick winners, but to potentially accelerate the transition.
About the author, disclaimer
I am Céline Schiff-Deb. By training, I am an agronomist and plant molecular biologist, and for the last 20 years I have been working at the interface of science and business, translating biotech innovations into relevant commercial products and services in the areas of food, feed, specialty chemicals, agriculture, and cosmetics. I joined MISTA as Head of Biotechnology in January 2022, and this article represent my own views. My interest in oils is not new. Between 2013 and 2017, I have worked for one of the most innovative and advanced company in the alternative oil space, Solazyme/TerraVia. I am thrilled to be part of the leadership team at MISTA and working closely with our MISTA members to help redefine the oils and fats space.