The global restaurant chain uses a new, Cargill-developed oil blend to stay on top of consumer and regulatory trends while boosting its menu’s nutritional value.
Prior to 2005, trans fats were found in an abundance of foods, from french fries and margarine to popcorn and piecrust. Though these fatty acids often helped to lengthen the shelf life and decrease the refrigeration requirements of various products, diets high in trans fats have been linked to heart disease.
In the late 1990s, Cargill conducted an industry analysis that predicted consumers would move away from trans fats and look for healthier alternatives. As a result, Cargill approached some of its major customers to make them aware of possible consumer and regulatory concerns that were likely to appear over the next ten years. McDonald’s® was one of the first to respond, and worked with Cargill to achieve zero grams of trans fat per serving in its iconic french fries without sacrificing flavor, texture or quality.
Over the next seven years, Cargill explored new oil blends, hunting for a healthier option. The search involved experimenting with 18 different types of oils, conducting seven central location tests and collecting feedback from more than 30,000 consumers—all of which led to the solution: Clear Valley high oleic canola oil. The unique oil maintained all of the benefits of traditional canola oil—the lowest saturated fat of any of the vegetable oils and 0 grams of trans fat per serving—while offering greater stability and longer fry life. A high oleic canola oil blend allowed McDonald’s to improve the nutritional value of its french fries while still preserving their signature gold-standard taste.
Cargill’s solution exceeded McDonald’s expectations and prepared the popular fast food company for the industry’s shift toward healthier oil alternatives in the mid-2000s. It helped McDonald’s achieve its goal to reduce or eliminate trans fats in fried foods without increasing saturates. In addition, the innovative blend did not sacrifice flavor, texture or quality, and store operations were minimally impacted.
Clear Valley high oleic canola oil has since proven to be preferred by consumers for “flavor, crispness and overall liking” by earning the highest average consumer sensory score and best nutritional profile in tests by FryTest.com. Additionally, through continuing investments in research and development, Cargill has consistently increased yield performance of high oleic canola varieties. As a result, growers have the ability to produce more high oleic canola for the McDonald’s system on 20.5% fewer acres of land, as compared to land required in 2007 to supply the same volume of oil. Because of these strong yields, Cargill has been able to maximize profitability for the grower as well as reduce year-over-year input costs for McDonald’s.
Since the oil blend’s debut in McDonald’s restaurants in 2008, other customers have come forward, looking to Cargill for help in minimizing the trans fats in their foods. Thanks to these partnerships, Cargill’s work to produce ever-healthier foods for a growing population continues.