LOS ANGELES – Kellogg Co. (K), the world's largest cereal maker, said Friday it plans to reduce artery-clogging trans fats in some of its products and called on others to invest in a new variety of soybean oil it said is healthier than other trans-fat-free oils.
Kellogg said it plans to replace trans-fat-producing oils in products like Cheez-It crackers and Pop Tarts toaster pastries with Monsanto Co.'s (MON) Vistive, a soy oil introduced last year that reduces the need for partial hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation is a chemical process used to give oils a longer shelf life. It also produces trans fats, which health experts say raise cholesterol levels and lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
The move by the maker of Frosted Flakes and Keebler cookies comes nearly two years after big food manufacturers like Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT), PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) unit Frito Lay and Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) announced plans to eliminate or reduce trans fats due to growing consumer concerns about health problems like obesity and diabetes.
The effort also comes ahead of a Jan. 1 deadline, when the Food and Drug Administration will require food labels to list the amount of trans fat in products.
Kellogg, which will introduce the first of its reformulated products in early 2006, acknowledged that it has been slower than others in the industry to reduce trans fats.
But a senior executive said that the variety of soy oil it sees as a healthier alternative is not yet fully available for use in all of the company's snack foods.
In an interview, President and Chief Operating Officer David Mackay said Kellogg was committed to using low linolenic soybean oil because, unlike other oils, it does not alter the taste of food and doesn't increase levels of saturated fat.
"The issue is really availability," Mackay said, adding that there was not yet enough supply to be able to reformulate the company's Keebler cookies.
As a result, Kellogg said it is calling on farmers, seed producers and rival food companies to help increase the supply of low linolenic soybeans used to make oils like Vistive.
The Battle Creek, Mich.-based company also said it will work with a Bunge-DuPont joint venture to increase production of its version of the oil, called Nutrium.
About 80 million pounds of low linolenic soybean oil were expected to be produced in 2005, though that is expected to climb to 400 million pounds in 2006, according to the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils.
Food manufacturers are using less traditional soy oil because it needs to be partially hydrogenated. Many have begun using palm oil, which contains no trans fats but is unpopular among nutritionists because it is higher in cholesterol-raising saturated fat than soy oil.
"It's not better to substitute palm oil to get the trans fats out," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University.
Mackay said Kellogg's use of the new soybean oil would allow it to "keep the saturated fats relatively stable ... we would like to keep the fat content exactly the same."
None of Kellogg's cereals contain trans fats, Mackay said.
A Kraft spokeswoman said it uses a variety of oils in its products, including soy, canola and palm, and that it was committed to making sure saturated fat levels are not increased once trans fats are removed.
Frito Lay spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez said the potato chip maker replaced hydrogenated oils with sunflower and corn oils to eliminate trans fats from its products.
Tyson officials were not available for comment.
A spokeswoman for Kellogg's biggest rival in the cereal aisle, General Mills , said the company uses a variety of oils and "supports efforts to identify trans fat in products."