Palm oil is used in a broad range of food and person care products, but there are serious concerns about the effect of the industry on the environment, as intensive plantations have led to deforestation in parts of Asia, destroying wildlife habitats and biodiversity.
Moreover, it is not the healthiest oil for human consumption as it contains high levels of saturated fat, which has been linked to elevated cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk.
The march towards using sustainable palm oil has been led by Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and changing to palm oil that is sustainable or supports sustainability is now a big trend for food manufacturers and retailers. The NGO Greenpeace has also been instrumental in holding manufacturers and retailers to account over their palm sourcing practices. Since it exposed rainforest clearance by certain Indonesian producers last year, major companies like Unilever have switched suppliers.
But Casino has gone a step further by deciding to completely remove palm oil from all its own brand foods. A spokesperson for the retail chain told FoodNavigator.com that 13 products already available at Casino already bear the palm oil-free logo, including breaded chicken, turkey cordon bleu and some sandwiches. Some 200 more will be added by the end of the year, but it will take 3 to 7 years for the whole Casino own brand food offering, numbering some 571 products today, to be reformulated.
The same reformulation programme is also being rolled out for other supermarkets in the Casino group, Franprix, Leader Price and Monoprix.
Technically-speaking palm oil is a useful food ingredient because it can provide expected texture and crustiness. Taking it out, therefore, will be no feat and some products will require more work than others to ensure gustatory properties are not impaired. The spokesperson said that biscuits are expected to be particularly challenging.
Other oils in the line up to replace palm oil include sunflower oil and rapeseed oil.
Casino will continue using palm oil in other non-food own-brand, such as personal care products, but it will be switching to certified sustainable palm oil. No timescale has been given for this switch, however, and because the supply chain logistics for sustainable oil are still being worked out some manufacturers have given a long lead time.
Nestle and UK retailer Marks and Spencer are amongst the companies that have said they will use certified palm oil only by 2015. In the meantime, a GreenCert certificate system exists whereby companies can pay the premium for the quantity of oil they buy. They do not actually receive sustainably produced oil because the supply is not yet segregated, but the fee for the certificate bolsters the price for the miller, and thus supports their sustainable operating practices.