How CPG Companies Can Develop Alternatives to Partially Hydrogenated Oils


Alternatives to partially hydrogenated oils
Because of the health risks of trans fats, the FDA is requiring CPG companies to remove partially hydrogenated oils from their products by June 2018. CPG companies are using cutting-edge software to develop alternatives to partially hydrogenated oils.
Image Source: Flickr user mihoda

In June 2015, the FDA revoked the “generally recognized as safe” status of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs). The FDA gave food manufacturers three years—until June 18, 2018—to remove all PHOs from their products. Because of the potential health risks of eating partially hydrogenated oils, including heart disease and obesity, most American citizens and lawmakers supported the ban. At the same time, consumers still want to enjoy the same PHO-containing foods that they always have. They want their favorite packaged cookies and snacks to taste like the ones they grew up with. They want to drink their morning coffee with thick, sweet creamer. They want ready-to-bake products like biscuit dough and frozen pizza so that they don’t have to cook after a long day of work. And when they do bake, they want to use shortening that allows them to duplicate their grandmother’s famous apple pie crust.

PHOs are responsible for the fundamental qualities of many consumer packaged goods, but as the FDA’s June 2018 deadline approaches there is increasing pressure for food companies to either take PHOs out or remove food products from the market altogether. In order to continue to offer consumers their favorite products, CPG companies must be able to develop alternatives to partially hydrogenate oils that confer the same properties.

What Partially Hydrogenated Oils Bring to Food Products

Partially hydrogenated oils are unsaturated fats that have undergone partial hydrogenation. At the chemical level, this means that some of their cis double bonds have been converted to trans double bonds1—hence, the more common term for PHOs is “trans fats.” PHOs have a higher melting point than unsaturated fatty acids, so they form crystalline solids at room temperature and melt at body temperature. They are also more resistant to oxidation than animal- and plant-based unsaturated fats, meaning they last longer.2 These unique chemical properties are responsible for some of the most fundamental qualities of consumers’ favorite foods. CPG companies are now faced with the challenge of duplicating these characteristics with alternative ingredients.

Partially hydrogenated oils have significant effects on the texture of many consumer packaged goods. They are responsible for the creamy thickness of coffee creamer and sandwich cookie creme. They also provide a lighter texture to donuts, cookies and cakes. When trans fats are replaced with unsaturated animal or vegetable fats, which are liquid at room temperature, these products tend to have a more oily, less hearty texture.3 Consumers don’t want to give up the texture benefits of PHOs, so CPG companies need to develop formulations that mimic their properties. To achieve this, many CPG companies are turning to formulations software that makes it easier to identify candidate ingredient combinations and accelerates the testing process so that new versions of products can be developed as quickly as possible.

Partially hydrogenated oils have a longer shelf-life than animal-based unsaturated fats, so they are frequently used as preservatives in ready-to-bake and ready-to-eat food products. CPG companies need to develop alternative preservatives in order to meet the high consumer demand for prepared foods. As Americans work longer hours and strive to balance personal and professional commitments, they want to be able to enjoy a hot meal or a delicious dessert without the fuss of cooking it themselves. Labs using cutting-edge software can find alternatives to partially hydrogenated oils in time to meet the FDA deadline. Determining the shelf-life of a product containing a new preservative can be time-consuming, but software improves workflow efficiency and prevents duplicate testing so that new formulations can be identified and developed as quickly as possible.

Another important factor that CPG companies must consider as they remove PHOs from food products is flavor. Partially hydrogenated oils contribute to the flavor of many food products. For instance, PHOs are responsible for the “buttery” flavor of microwave popcorn. CPG companies also worry that flavor will be compromised as PHOs are replaced with new preservatives and thickeners. For researchers confronting this challenge, advancements in software are making it easier to integrate data from experiments on texture, shelf-life and flavor in order to ensure that all three qualities are maintained in a new formulation.

Complicating Factors for CPG Developers

Developing new formulations is more complicated than simply replacing PHOs with a new ingredient that confers the same properties to the food product. While tropical oils such as palm oil can provide some of the same textural and preservative qualities of PHOs, palm oil production is unsustainable. It contributes to deforestation and pollution, and most palm oil producers are known to exploit their workers.4 Even if CPG companies wanted to source palm oil solely from sustainable growers, there are so few in the world today that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the boost in demand. Because CPG companies can’t rely on tropical oils to replace PHOs, and because these oils can’t fully duplicate the qualities of PHOs anyway, researchers need to use integrative technologies to find combinations of ingredients that, when added together, yield a new formulation that offers the same qualities as the old food product.

Another concern for researchers as they develop new CPG formulations is cost. Partially hydrogenated oils were originally developed as cheaper alternatives to lard.5 This has kept prices for many food products low. Packaged cookies, frozen pizza and microwave popcorn are all relatively inexpensive and consumers expect them to remain affordable. Researchers can use formulations software to integrate experimental and economic data and identify the formulations that maintain product quality without significantly increasing costs.

Using Technology to Meet the FDA’s Challenge

The race to replace PHOs is on. In order to stay viable, CPG companies need to embrace modern software that streamlines the testing process so that new formulations can be developed more quickly and they can continue to provide loyal customers with the high-quality, affordable food products they know and love.

The BIOVIA Formulations Solution provides the tools your lab needs to replace the partially hydrogenated oils in your food products in time to meet the June 2018 deadline. The software makes it easy to integrate data in order to find the best formulations and it accelerates the process so that new products get to market as quickly as possible. Contact us today to find out how we can help your company develop top-quality products that comply with FDA guidelines.

  1. “Hydrogenation of Unsaturated Fats,” 2003,
  2. “Replacements for Trans Fats–Will There Be an Oil Shortage?” May 2007,
  3. “What Food Can Replace Trans Fats’ Creamy Goodness?” June 18, 2015,
  4. “Labor Exploitation and Human Rights Abuses Within the Palm Oil Sector,” November 17, 2014,
  5. “Rise and fall of trans fat: a history of partially hydrogenated oil,” November 7, 2013,