By Lorrie Baumann
Specialty oils represent an area of great opportunity for retailers, and many are under-representing specialty oils, says La Tourangelle Founder and CEO Matthieu Kohlmeyer. “A lot of supermarkets are still under-representing the specialty oils – usually they have a lot of cooking oils, including sunflower oil and olive oil. But when it comes to other kinds of oils, they don’t have a good representation. I think that specialty oils is an area of great opportunity for retailers.”
La Tourangelle produces about 20 different specialty oils in a range of sizes. Extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil and canola oil are offered as organics, there are nut oils including Roasted Walnut Oil – historically, one of La Tourangelle’s biggest sellers; Roasted Pecan, Roasted Pistachio, Roasted Almond Oil and Roasted Hazelnut Oil that are useful for finishing dishes after they’re cooked or for salad dressings; and a range of spray oils that appeal to low-fat cooks.
Sales of the oils are being driven partly by food enthusiasts who’ve discovered that they present an easy way to infuse new flavors into vegetable dishes, including salads, but also by health-conscious shoppers who are looking for alternatives to highly refined polyunsaturated oils that have been associated with higher cancer rates in nutrition studies as well as consumers with sensitive skin who’ve adopted La Tourangelle’s organic coconut oil, grapeseed oil and avocado oil as part of their skin care regimes. “A major trend is that we are seeing a shift in which many women and men are using organic oils for skin care and body care. A lot of consumers are buying our grapeseed, avocado, coconut oil, not just for cooking but for skin care, makeup removal, hair care. This has directly impacted our sales,” Kohlmeyer said. “It’s a huge driver for us. So many people now are getting allergic reactions to chemicals. If they go to 100 percent organic coconut oil, they know that they’re not getting adulterants…. It’s really not only food – it’s a lot of different things. A lot of people are telling me that, ‘Your jar is in my bathroom, not in my kitchen.’… People are trying to improve their health; they want to be more selective. They’re paying more attention to the quality of the products they consume and that they use on their body as well.”
In the kitchen, La Tourangelle oils contribute more flavor than refined oils. “The refining process removes flavor. Even though you may get the same fatty acids, they remove the flavors,” Kohlmeyer said. He suggested that consumers can gain some insight about whether an oil is highly refined by checking the label for the addition of Vitamin E, which is often added to refined oils to replace the Vitamin E that’s lost during refining. “It’s difficult for a store manager to be an oil specialist, but if the label says it’s refined, you should understand that it’s not going to have the flavor,” Kohlmeyer said.
Many of the leaders of food movements who are urging their followers to avoid highly refined oils are advocating for coconut oil despite its saturated fatty acids. “Organic virgin coconut oil is now our best-seller. For a very long time, consumers have been told they should avoid saturated fat. When people became more knowledgeable, they realized that some saturated fats were actually very good for them.” Kohlmeyer said. About half the fatty acid content in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that’s also found in human breast milk and that is known to increase total serum cholesterol. But more recent nutrition studies have found that most of the cholesterol increase is in the form of high-density lipoprotein, the so-called “good cholesterol.”
But while Kohlmeyer acknowledges these health and beauty reasons for consumer interest in his La Tourangelle oils, his own reason for appreciating them is the flavor they add to food. “I strongly believe that good food should taste good. Good oils, specialty oils, all oils, should have a good flavor,” he said. “Refined olive oil on the shelf doesn’t cover the needs of your customers…. Cooking is about using flavor. These oils are a way to enhance flavor.”
While most specialty oils are packaged in glass bottles, most La Tourangelle oils are packaged in tin cans to protect their flavors. “Specialty oils can be quite fragile and can deteriorate fairly quickly if they’re exposed to oxygen or natural light. The first step in preserving the oil is to seal it from oxygen and to keep it safe from light,” he said. With some oils that are packaged in clear bottles, it’s possible to notice that they begin changing color within a few weeks of bottling, which is a sign that they’re oxidizing. Colored glass bottles slow this process by limiting exposure to the effects of light, but tin cans do a better job of protecting the oils, Kohlmeyer said, adding that the tin cans also constitute a better choice for the environment. “It weighs nothing, and it’s easy to recycle. The typical glass bottle, half of the weight is the bottle, and the other half is the oil.” Less weight means a lighter carbon footprint for the product because a heavier container requires more fuel to transport it.
La Tourangelle’s newest packaging option is a spray can that appeals to home cooks who are already very familiar with PAM. La Tourangelle offers sprays for extra virgin olive, roasted walnut, roasted pistachio, expeller-pressed grapeseed, avocado and canola oils as well as Thai Wok and toasted sesame Spray Oils. The La Tourangelle products don’t contain the propellants found in competing spray oils, Kohlmeyer said. “I don’t think people realize when people use a traditional spray, that they’re spraying a petroleum product on their food…. [With the La Tourangelle sprays,] when you press the spray button, 100 percent oil comes out, no propellants.”