From humble beginnings, niche products offer consumers health benefits while distributors welcome the high margins

Specialities such as sesame seed, walnut, almond and avocado oil are delivering the biggest year-on-year growth in culinary oils.
Packaged in bottles as small as 15ml but attracting big margins, they appear to be benefiting from interest in exotic cuisines and from mounting awareness of their potential health benefits. But they’re starting from a low base.
Walnut oil alone put on nearly 30% in value in the year to April 24, says TNS, but at £330,000 is one of the smallest sectors in oils. TNS puts growth in all speciality oils at 33.1% over this period, but that still only brings their combined value to £8m, compared with £58.5m for extra virgin olive oil.
“There’s a long way for them to go to challenge other oils,” says Remmelt Jongkind, marketing director of Princes Foods’ manufacturing division.
Nonetheless, with olive oil under mounting price pressure, the speciality sector is being tipped as a nice little earner for the future.
Juliet Jukes, product marketing manager at distributor RH Amar, says sales have risen on the back of olive oil’s success. Consumers are aware of the importance of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and speciality oils allow them to pursue these healthier options while recreating authentic ethnic dishes. “Some consumers are building up a repertoire of different oils so they can mix and match them to specific meals,” she says.
RH Amar distributes the Cuisine de Provence range produced by a family firm in southern France. These include virgin sesame, hazelnut, roasted peanut, walnut and virgin sunflower oils. Its almond oil, pressed from lightly crushed and toasted almonds, was named Best French Speciality in last year’s Great Taste Awards, the deli trade Oscars organised by the Guild of Fine Food Retailers.
Almond oil is little known in the UK - although Aarhus offers a sweet almond oil as does Merchant Gourmet. Jukes says it’s a versatile product that can be used in baking or to bring out the flavour of smoked meats and fish, as well as on salads.
Merchant Gourmet retail director Simon Bell says speciality oils have benefited from the good press received by certain ‘healthy’ raw materials. “Pumpkinseed and macadamia are in huge growth at the moment,” he says. “Macadamia oil is the healthiest culinary oil on the market, with a monounsaturate level of 80-85%. It also contains a high level of antioxidants and has a high smoke point, which makes it ideal for stir-frying or pan-frying.”
Things aren’t going swimmingly for every niche oil, however. Sesame oil sales plunged 13.4% in value last year to below £2m, reports TNS.
At Unilever UK Foods, business operations manager Paul Holden says speciality oils have become “an ever-growing presence”. However he believes their growth potential is limited: “Whether any of these oils could become the ‘the next olive oil’ is doubtful. It seems unlikely consumers would view these products to be as versatile as a regular olive oil.”