ALBA, ITALY: The $44 billion palm oil industry, under pressure in Europe after authorities listed the edible oil as a cancer risk, has found a vocal ally in the food sector: the maker of Nutella.
Italian confectionery firm Ferrero has taken a public stand in defense of an ingredient that some other food companies in the country are boycotting. It has launched an advertising campaign to assure the public about the safety of Nutella, its flagship product which makes up about a fifth of its sales.
The hazelnut and chocolate spread, one of Italy’s best-known food brands and a popular breakfast treat for children, relies on palm oil for its smooth texture and shelf life. Other substitutes, such as sunflower oil, would change its character, according to Ferrero.
“Making Nutella without palm oil would produce an inferior substitute for the real product, it would be a step backward,” Ferrero’s purchasing manager Vincenzo Tapella told Reuters. He features in a TV commercial aired in Italy over the past three months that has drawn criticism from some politicians.
Any move away from palm oil would also have economic implications as it is the cheapest vegetable oil, costing around $800 a ton, compared with $845 for sunflower oil and $920 for rapeseed oil, another possible substitute.
Ferrero uses about 185,000 tonnes of palm oil a year, so replacing it with those substitutes could cost the firm an extra $8-22 million annually, at those prices. The company declined to comment on these calculations.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in May that palm oil generated more of a potentially carcinogenic contaminant than other vegetable oils when refined at temperatures above 200 degrees Celsius. It did not, however, recommend consumers stop eating it and said further study was needed to assess the level of risk.