Stratas Apex Golden Flex technology
Stratas' Apex Golden Flex technology targets difficult applications for pho replacement, such as icing.

LAS VEGAS — Showcasing its latest generation option for replacement of partially hydrogenated oil (pho), Stratas Foods has reinforced its position as a leading packaged oil vendor in North America, said Jonathan Gilbert, general manager, food ingredients.

At IFT17, the 2017 Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition in Las Vegas, Memphis, Tenn.-based Stratas highlighted its Apex Golden Flex technology, targeting some of the most difficult applications for pho replacement, including icing, baking and donut frying.

Mr. Gilbert said Golden Flex followed several earlier iterations of pho replacement offered by Stratas, beginning with palm oil options.

“In bakery, we have been developing innovations that lean on new and unique crystallization technology that delivers a much more stable and creamier product,” he said. “That innovation increasingly has become our principal approach to pho replacement.”

Jonathan Gilbert, Stratas
Jonathan Gilbert, general manager, food ingredients, Stratas

Produced from U.S. grown soybeans and leveraging expanded stability from new high-oleic soybean oil, Stratas is marketing Golden Flex as a “true drop-in replacement” for phos, looking to appeal to companies looking to avoid or minimize major limitations with certain pho alternatives.

While proud of the cutting-edge technology behind the Golden Flex line, Mr. Gilbert said that for Stratas the advances are grounded in a unique new business with roots dating back more than 125 years.

Stratas was established in 2008 as a 50-50 joint venture between ACH (owned by Associated British Foods) and Archer Daniels Midland Co. ACH was established in the 19th century, initially as a cottonseed oil refiner. At the time, cottonseed was the only vegetable oil produced, as an alternative to lard and edible tallow.

“Over time ACH developed a phenomenal portfolio of shortenings,” Mr. Gilbert said. “They were best known for highly functional baking shortenings, as evidenced by an amazing number of baked food recipes from the 1900s listing an ACH shortening.”

At the time Stratas was established, ACH plants were no longer state of the art, and the business was not as vertically integrated as other vegetable oil producers, Mr. Gilbert said.

By contrast, ADM was highly integrated and efficient 10 years ago as a crusher and refiner, but was looking for opportunities to move its business upward along the food chain.

“Both companies realized they could do better together, and 8½ years ago formed Stratas,” Mr. Gilbert said. “We closed older facilities, and moved packaging plants next to ADM refining facilities.”

Currently, Stratas operates two plants each in Illinois and Texas, and one in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, California and New Jersey.

The plants in New Jersey, Alabama and Tennessee were acquired in October 2016 with the Stratas purchase of Supreme Oil Co., which has expanded the Stratas portfolio to include mayonnaise, sauces, dressings, and condiments.

In addition to serving the baking and food processing industries, Stratas is the largest manufacturer of private label retail vegetable oil in the United States. Mr. Gilbert said Stratas has grown to become the largest packaged oil company in the United States.

Finding ways to add value are part of the ACH and ADM legacies for Stratas and remain a priority, Mr. Gilbert said.

“We don’t want to be the guys who simply put fat in a box, rather the go-to-company for significant industry innovation, such as the crystallization technologies used in Golden Flex,” he said.

The Golden Flex line has sold well to bakers, Mr. Gilbert said.

In particular, retail bakers who had been among the last segment of pho users to switch have embraced the product, he said.

The Food and Drug Administration in June 2015 finalized its decision that phos are not Generally Recognized As Safe for use in human food. The deadline for food manufacturers to remove phos from all their products is June 18, 2018.

“It’s the ninth inning,” Mr. Gilbert said. Bakers were slow to move in part because of tough applications like icings. Donuts bakers were slow, too.

“But now there’s been a real shift away from palm for many bakers,” he said. “There are huge benefits for Golden Flex in flavor, shelf life, stability, and in donuts for absorption and reduced weeping. The shift has been a nice surprise.”