After years of buying skim, low-fat and no-fat products, consumers have welcomed the news that not all fats are created equal. Witness the meteoric rise of coconut oil and butter products reasserting themselves with “pure” and “slow churned” varieties.
The entire category of spreads, sprays and oils is growing in ways that would have been unthinkable in margarine’s heyday. Market research firm Packaged Facts estimates the fats and oils products market will reach just over $9 billion in sales this year, and will jump to $11 billion over the next five years.
At the tip of this movement is science that has deepened our understanding of fats, venerating some while vilifying others. Studies show that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, for instance, have disease-fighting qualities and shouldn’t be confused with cholesterol-boosting trans fats. Now, even saturated fats, once touted as a dietary no-no, have been picked apart into medium-chain and long-chain varieties, the former supposedly being healthier and easier to metabolize than the latter.
As I mentioned in a related Whole Health story, dietitians caution against giving carte blanche to these lesser-evil fats. But consumers have heard all they need to hear.
“Some may point out that many fats and oils such as butter, margarine, and cooking oils are household staples that consumers will always buy, but make no mistake, this newfound perspective is driving sales,” said David Sprinkle, publisher of Packaged Facts.
None of this should come as a surprise to industry stakeholders, who have seen the demand for whole, unprocessed products steadily grow over the years. In his book In Defense of Food, printed in 2008, author Michael Pollan called out margarine and other low fat substitutes for increasing consumption because they withhold wholesome calories the body craves. The focus, he asserted, should be on eating real food in moderation.
Consumers have taken this advice to heart, and companies have followed suit with an array of oils and spreads that play on nostalgia and traditional formulas and production methods. It’s enough to make grandma proud, though even she would probably advise going easy on the coconut oil.