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Iowa farmer-owned company working to revolutionize soybean oil industry
By DOUG SCHMITZ
Iowa Correspondent

WINFIELD, Iowa — When the first case of Asoyia™ soybean oil rolled off the assembly line in October 2004, its arrival on the national culinary stage was the culmination of more than 30 years of stringent scientific development and testing that has now become the talk of the soybean industry

“Asoyia is the world’s leading producer of ultra low lin soybean oil, offering the lowest level of linolenic acid in any soybean oil on the market today,” said Rich Lineback, vice president of sales and marketing for Asoyia, LLC, a Iowa farmer-owned company.

“As a result, products produced with our oil have zero trans fats,” he said of the southeast Iowa company, which works exclusively with 1 percent ultra low lin soybean oil from GMO-free beans on its 24,000 acres in Henry County.

Created from the phrase “A SOYbean for IowA” by Chief Operating Officer Vivan Jennings in August 2004, Asoyia is a limited liability company owned by 25 Iowa growers who raised the capital. In turn, they have become its shareholders, which enables them to participate in all decisions regarding the growing, processing, marketing and selling of the product.

Headquartered in Winfield, Iowa, Asoyia is the result of 28 years of research by Iowa State University’s Walter Fehr, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture, and Earl Hammond, emeritus professor of food science and human nutrition, both of whom had initially started working on the project in the late 1960s. By the early 1990s, Fehr and Hammond had isolated three soybean genes that control the linolenic acid trait.

Their findings lowered the linolenic acid content from the 7 percent in conventional soybean oil to the 1 percent in Asoyia, which is processed from nongenetically modified soybeans (non-GMO).

Starting this month, the FDA is requiring all food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats on food labels in packaged and restaurant foods. This federal regulation has encouraged the U.S. food industry to eliminate trans fatty acids from their products by searching for an alternative to the hydrogenated oils they’ve been using for decades.

As a result, Asoyia’s 1 percent linolenic acid content is the lowest available on the market, which eliminates the need for the hydrogenation process that conventional soybean oils must go through to maintain freshness and long-lasting stability for commercial cooking applications.

Jennings said Asoyia is the only brand on the market today offering all the health benefits of trans free, low saturated fats and longer fryer life in one oil, which requires no hydrogenation to maintain a stable shelf life and low transferable taste.

“Asoyia offers the first frying oil that addresses everyone’s needs today,” he said. “It has zero trans fats, reduced saturated fat, practically no transferable taste, a long fryer life, and is not genetically modified. Plus, food cooked in Asoyia tastes great and is crispier compared to other oils.”

Asoyia has contracted with Cargill in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for eight more years, to crush and process its soybeans, with the oil being shipped to a warehouse in Des Moines, where the company decides whether the oil will fill retail bottles, containers for restaurants or rail cars for processors.

Through its special processing relationship with Cargill, Asoyia plans to have 6,000 acres worth of the specially bred soybeans turned into approximately three million pounds of Asoyia oil, which will be delivered this year.

In addition, the company plans to sell 80 percent of its oil to food processors, with the remaining 20 percent being used by hospitals and colleges, or sold in retail outlets and restaurants.

Jason Wheelock, manager of Hickory Park Restaurant in Ames, Iowa, has already been using Asoyia and has nothing but praise for the product.

“When we tested Asoyia in our restaurant, our customers didn’t notice any difference in taste,” Wheelock said. “From a cooking perspective, the oil also looked better and lasted twice as long as the oil we used to use.

Jennings said food distributors have also taken notice of Asoyia’s nutritional benefits.

Rusty Claypool, program manager at SYSCO Food Services of Iowa, said Asoyia is the next step in the fryer shortening revolution.

“Asoyia is now the healthiest way to fry goods without sacrificing taste or cost competitiveness,” he said.

Regionally, Asoyia does a small amount of retail business in Illinois and Iowa through Hy-Vee and Fareway stores, both of which now regularly stock the product.

Lineback added that their Midwest food service clientele also include Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Asoyia also exports oil to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

As an added incentive to its contracted farmers, Asoyia’s 2006 Growers Program offers a guaranteed $0.80 per bushel premium for their growers.

In 2005, Asoyia worked with 125 contract growers, who produced more than 25,000 acres. The company is now seeking to triple its acreage in the 2006 growing season in the hopes of increasing its network to more than 250 growing partners.

“They also receive a portion of the profits generated from the sale of the soybean oil,” Lineback said.

Currently, Asoyia’s primary partner for marketing and distributing seed is River Valley Cooperative in Clarence, Iowa.

“Our growers buy Asoyia seed through River Valley Co-op and sign a contract with Asoyia giving us right of first refusal on their soybeans,” Lineback said. “They also agree to follow Asoyia’s protocols for field management, storage and delivery of their grain.”

Currently, Asoyia is developing other advanced traits that could potentially supplement the company’s product line with soybean oil with even higher levels of stability.

“We differentiate ourselves from other soybean oil manufacturers through our unique product, our unparalleled commitment to quality and our commitment to return 100 percent of our profits to the farmers who grow our soybeans,” Lineback said.

“Asoyia stands as a small but powerful player at the forefront of the ultra low linolenic acid soybean oil movement,” Lineback said. “Many major players within the soybean industry view this movement as the future of soybean-based cooking oil.”

However, of all the national recognition the company has received, Lineback said he’s still most pleased with Asoyia’s impressive array of customers.

“Our customers range from small town restaurants to some of the best gourmet establishments in Chicago, from leading hospitals and college food service operations to sports bars,” he said. “And among food processors, our current customers include some of the largest, most quality-conscious food manufacturers in the world. "

For more information about Asoyia, visit www.asoyia.com

Published in the January 18, 2006 issue of Farm World.

1/18/2006