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Being highly versatile and free of trans fats, palm oil is used in a wide array of food products. A key application is specialty fats which includes compound chocolates, non-dairy creamers, chocolate coatings, margarine and others. How exactly does palm make the journey from being a plant to a specialty-fat product that goes into the products you use and love? Check out the flow chart below.

Speech by Senior Manager of Corporate Communications, Carolyn Lim, at NUS Global Asia Institute’s Wee Cho Yaw Business Forum 2023.

In the thick of the haze that engulfed Southeast Asia in 2015, I received a random call on my landline who said, “Why are you working for an evil palm oil company?

The stigma for the palm oil industry is bad enough that it’s seen as “a sin industry” alongside gambling and tobacco.

However, people who work in evil industries are often in a position to do valuable things. Swapping from cigarettes to less risky products is a net gain for health. Changing from chopping down trees to developing zero deforestation strategy is a net gain for climate action.

Today I want to clarify three misconceptions about palm oil.

1. We need to feed the world with a productive crop for global food security

Oil palm is a uniquely productive crop. On a per hectare basis, oil palms are 6-10 times more efficient at producing oil than temperate oilseeds such as rapeseed and sunflower.

If oilseeds were to replace palm, it would require at least 50 million additional hectares of prime farmland to produce the same amount of edible oil.

Ensuring everyone has access to an affordable diet sustainably is one of the most significant challenges that humankind faces today.

The question is not to ban palm but to ask ourselves: How do you grow oil palm sustainably?

2. We’re committed to zero deforestation in our operations and beyond

Over the years, we’ve worked with our suppliers, peers, civil society groups, and local governments to reduce deforestation and tighten the standards.

Indonesia supplies about half of the world’s palm oil. These days, 80% of the country’s refining capacity is run by companies that have pledged “No deforestation, no peat, and no exploitation”, or NDPE for short.

Although Indonesia’s forests are shrinking, the pace has slowed sharply in recent years compared to other tropical countries. In 2021 it fell for a fifth straight year, down by a quarter compared with 2020, according to the NGO World Resources Institute (WRI).

Strikingly, and for the first time, rises in the price of palm oil since 2020 do not appear to have caused more deforestation in Indonesia.

3.  We’re not “a big business” crop

Another misconception is that palm oil is overwhelmingly a “big business” crop. There are about 4 million smallholder growers, nearly all of whom farm individual plots.

In Indonesia, the largest palm oil-producing country, smallholders account for 40% of the total planted area.

We have the most extensive independent smallholders program in Indonesia, working in areas outside our operations to train smallholders.

The fruits of our labor were made possible today because we’ve worked very hard in the past. We had only 10 on the team when I joined the group in 2012. Over the last decade, we’ve grown more than 10 times to about 150 full-time staff working on the Musim Mas sustainability team.

To all the critics of palm oil, if you want to change the world, join an evil palm oil company first.

By Devane Sharma

The rise of the plant-based consumer

As concerns on environmental sustainability and animal welfare grow, more consumers are choosing plant-based alternatives. The trend isn’t driven solely by consumers who identify as vegetarians or vegans but also by ‘flexitarians’ – individuals who prefer a vegetarian diet but occasionally consume meat and fish.

The Smart Protein Project surveyed 7,500 people across 10 European countries and found that while 7% of respondents are on plant-based diets, a more significant 30% identify as flexitarians, and 46% are eating less meat at present than they did the same time last year1.

Challenges in making plant-based cakes

While there’s no doubt that plant-based products are growing in demand, the growth of such products for cakes hasn’t been as stellar. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), 22% of bread launches in 2019 bore a vegan claim. For biscuits, it was 6%, but only 3% for cakes and pastries.

From customer-facing bakeries to frozen cakes, creating vegan cakes presents a challenge for producers – replacing eggs and dairy. In traditional cake recipes, butter helps trap carbon dioxide gas in the batter as the cake bakes, contributing to the rise. The complex proteins in egg whites give stability to the mixture and also contributes to the rise, while the fats, such as lecithin in egg yolks, serve as emulsifiers holding together parts of the batter that would otherwise separate. These are only some of the functions these ingredients serve, and replacing them with plant-based products is not always straightforward.



A world of possibilities

The comparative lag of new plant-based cakes presents an opportunity for food manufacturers to develop new products. Still, given the complexity, strong partnerships are needed to perfect formulations.

Musim Mas’ innovation labs at the Novel Ideas Centre are built with partnerships in mind. Our dedicated team of specialists is ready to support you in transforming your line-up towards the growing plant-based trend with our emulsifiers.

Naturally trans-fat free and non-GMO, our MASEMUL® EF range helps with aeration, stability, and provides better moisture retention. It has served both consumer-facing bakeries and industrial ones, resulting in consistent, high-quality cakes that suit local consumer tastes.

Having been part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) since 2004 and the first palm oil major to be verified by the more stringent standards of the Palm Oil Innovation Group in 2019, Musim Mas prides itself on sustainability. Our MASEMUL® EF range is available with the right sustainability certifications for your market.

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