Do you ever look on the back of products to review the ingredient labels? These labels sometimes have a list with multiple potential ingredients, naming ingredients like “Safflower, Sunflower AND/OR Canola Oil”.
This happens with lots of oils, including Canola Oil, Sunflower Oil, Safflower Oil, Soybean Oil, and Corn Oil. It is especially common when these ingredients are used for cooking or frying. For example, you will often see this sort of “and/or” list on popcorn, chips and other snack foods.
This multi-oil ingredient label (Safflower, Sunflower AND/OR Canola Oil) means that the ingredients that may be used in the product could be Sunflower Oil or Safflower Oil….. but it could also be Canola Oil. Really, it could be a mix of two of them or it could very well be all three. No matter which oil is actually inside the product, it is completely fine because the brand has already listed those ingredients on the ingredient statement as possible choices.
This is a common trend especially with oil ingredients, as they are often commodities and some oils can be easily interchangeable. After all, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn and soy oil all have very similar taste profile: mild and light!
If you are wondering why companies list more than one possible ingredient, there is a good reason behind it: it is very self-preserving. In fact, it can help them save time, money and keep them out of a supply bind down the road.
Listing 2-3 Ingredients On A Food Manufacturer’s Label
Listing as many as two or three options for a certain ingredient on the product label can be a extremely smart thing for a company to do. It is a strategic way to make a purchasing choice.
The FDA does allow multiple, pre-approved ingredients to be listed on products. The key is to get these ingredient options to be approved and set up by your QA team in advance. This will allow you, on the purchasing side of things, to have a bit more safety and security down the road.
It Can Keep Your Pricing Lower Or Steady
Commodity items like canola, sunflower and safflower can vary in price and supply throughout the year. Prices change on a daily to weekly basis — sometimes as often as every minute of the day. Current rates are driven by supply and demand and many other factors.
That being said, not all markets are alike so this could put you in a bind if a certain commodity market is too tight (or too high priced). For example, sometimes you’ll see the price of sunflower go up while the price of canola goes down. If you only had sunflower oil set up as an ingredient option, you would be stuck with a higher cost. But if you also had canola oil set up as an option, you could simply swap from sunflower to canola and keep your costs the same or even bring them down.
It Provides Security To Your Supply Chain
By listing a few different ingredient options, you can save your company time and money if the supply chain is ever in crisis. A crisis would be if the ingredient became too high priced to purchase because the market jumped up — or the worst scenario, if your ingredient was completely unavailable.
Having multiple ingredients approved would give you wiggle room to preserve your bottom line. It’s one thing if your ingredient prices go up a little bit, or even a lot. That’s actually not as bad as if the market is completely OUT.
What would you do if all of the sunflower oil in the market had been bought up? If it was your only approved ingredient for oil that was listed on your packaging — what would you do? Would it shut down your production? Would you have to go through an emergency R&D approval for a new ingredient? What about your packaging, which only lists sunflower oil? You’d have to order more once the substitute ingredient is approved by QA, and have it shipped on a rush.
Your whole team would be working on overtime in a panic. This can be a messy situation, and one that most purchasing managers would like to avoid.
We understand that oil is an easy situation to propose this solution; this would be a challenge for ingredients that do not have a easy substitute.
But many ingredients do have alternatives — especially oils.
It’s best to be proactive to review and put in place all of your options first, rather than waiting for an emergency and having to be reactive (and stressed) later!