In a drive that began almost ten years ago, Orkla Confectionery and Snacks Sweden has been removing the palm oil from its confectionery, biscuits and sweet and savoury snacks, including some of its most well-known brands, such as OLW, Göteborgs Kex and Panda. In 2014 it declared its Swedish Filipstad snack factory to be completely palm oil-free.
The company says it is doing so to make its portfolio healthier, and by removing over 7,000 tons of palm oil from its products since 2008, it has cut out 1,500 tons
of saturated fat.
“We have chosen to set high goals and 98% of our products are now completely free from palm oil. We want to inspire people to create good products also have a better impact on health. It shows that we take our role as a leader seriously,” said CSR and communications manager at Orkla Confectionery & Snacks Sweden Stina Petrini.
It is now aiming to hit the 100% mark.
Petrini told us: “We replaced palm oil with mixtures of various oils such as sunflower, for example, coconut and shea nut oil, which together make better products in terms of health."
Although coconut oil, for instance, has a higher saturated fat content than palm oil, Orkla keeps this down by blending with other oils.
Petrini said Orkla had found it difficult to imitate the consistency and durability of palm oil, but that with product testing it was able to reformulate without compromising on quality or taste, and that the move has been well received by consumers in Sweden.
According to the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA), palm oil has a number of benefits compared to other oils. Once processed it has a neutral taste and smell, a creamy texture and it retains these characteristics at high cooking temperatures.
“Palm oil is widely used by food manufacturers because of its functional benefits, versatility and widespread availability. No other vegetable fat with a semisolid texture at room temperature, [that] provides the same features, exists in sufficient quantity,” the EPOA’s secretary for nutrition and health Mirjam Smit said.
EPOA: ‘No palm oil is no solution’
Orkla, which recorded a turnover last year of 37.8 billion Norwegian krone (€4.14bn), has said it is phasing out palm oil for health reasons, rather than negative publicity over links between the commodity and unsustainable sourcing practices.
Parent company, the Oslo-headquartered Orkla, has been a member of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) since 2015, and its company policy on sourcing sustainable palm oil (which can be read here) states:
“We will support the work of the RSPO and increase the uptake of RSPO-certified oil.”
But this policy also lists as "a milestone accomplishment" the 90% reduction of palm oil in its Nordic sweets and snacks brands between 2008 and 2015, and the 70% cut in all its branded consumer goods (including the general food division and personal care).
This means it may have the growing frustration of fellow RSPO members to contend with.
At the RSPO's annual roundtable meeting in Bangkok last year, the organisation’s co-chair and boss of Malaysia’s United Plantations Berhad Carl Bek-Nielsen was scathing of the increasing number companies that join RSPO and then publicise palm oil-free products.
“Speaking on behalf of the growers, we simply can’t understand how you can be a RSPO member when you go out and say ‘no palm oil’ [on some packaging],” he said in an interview with our sister publication FoodNavigator-Asia.
“It’s not just business-class-hypocrisy, its first-class hypocrisy."
Retailers such as Delhaize and Casino, frozen food manufacturer Findus or Italian pasta and bakery giant Barilla have all launched palm oil-free products.
RSPO members, including manufacturers Unilever and Mondelez, and suppliers AAK and IOI Loders Croklaan, asked the RSPO to amend its policy and crack down on other members claiming to have removed palm oil for environmental reasons. The motion for a resolution, which came into force in September last year, did not mention health.
Smit echoed this: “Palm oil is the largest vegetable oil available in the world. Moving towards sustainable palm oil in Europe creates an incentive to make the global palm oil supply more sustainable. NGOs like Greenpeace and Conservation International support the sourcing of credible, sustainable palm oil and the goal to achieve 100% sustainable palm oil in Europe.
“All RSPO-members should know by now that replacing palm oil with other fats or oils is no solution to tackle environmental or health issues and negatively impacts food product properties. No palm oil is no solution. Sustainable palm oil is! So the only option forward is that all food companies and retailers commit themselves to sustainable palm oil.”
Orkla Confectionery & Snacks Sweden did not say whether it planned to target other nutrients, such as sugar or salt, as well but said it “continually reviews portfolios to make them healthier”.