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Cottonseed oil rules the kitchens of Gujarat as cheapest cooking oil

Gujarat is taking to cottonseed oil like it’s going out of fashion — actually it isn’t with the state witnessing a boom in cotton production.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Apr 14, 2013, 05.02 AM IST
Gujarat is taking to cottonseed oil like it’s going out of fashion — actually it isn’t with the state witnessing a boom in cotton production.
Gujarat is taking to cottonseed oil like it’s going out of fashion — actually it isn’t with the state witnessing a boom in cotton production.
The BT cotton revolution, which swept India’s countryside, is now doubling up as the source of the country’s cheapest cooking oil. And in Narendra Modi’s motherland, the Jasubens are loving it. Cottonseed or ‘kapasiya’ oil is ruling in the kitchens of Gujarat, the largest cotton-growing state. One out of every two bottles of oil consumed in Gujarat contains cottonseed oil.

“Earlier, we used around three litres of cottonseed oil in our monthly consumption of 15 litres. Now we buy 10 litres of cottonseed oil and the rest is sunflower oil,” says Ratnaben Shah, a housewife in Rajkot. With their love for snacks and fried food, Gujaratis are the largest consumers of cooking oil in India.

“Cottonseed oil is the best homegrown oil for frying because the food doesn’t develop an odour for many weeks,” says Sandeep Bajoria, an industry consultant.

Of the 11 lakh tonnes of cottonseed oil produced in India annually, almost half is consumed by Gujarat alone, says Govindbhai Patel of GGN Research, a consultancy. He believes demand can potentially grow by 10% annually, if the cotton crop keeps pace. “Cotton is an extremely versatile crop because it provides fibre, edible oil and animal feed. It is also the only crop whose production has doubled in the past few years,” adds Bajoria.


This popularity has opened the perfect business opportunity for companies such as Adani Wilmar whose Fortune is the biggest national name in the branded oil market. “Cottonseed is the No. 1 oil in Gujarat. We are aggressively promoting it as a good quality refined oil if you don’t want to downtrade to palmolein,” says Angshu Mallick, chief operations officer at the Ahmedabad-based Adani Wilmar.

Fortune cottonseed oil, which sells 2,000 tonnes in Gujarat every month, trails market leader Tirupati, a brand owned by NK Proteins.

Mallick says the market is clearly divided into cottonseed oil for domestic cooking and palm oil, which has better cost economics for industrial-scale frying of snacks.

Gujarat is also soaking up supply from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Although cottonseed oil is popular in other cotton-growing states too, it has a special affinity with Gujarat.

Gujaratis living in Africa were first to acquire a taste for cottonseed oil. When they fled Uganda in 1971, they brought back with them a demand for kapasiya oil. In those days, cottonseed and its oil was fed to cattle because it wasn’t considered fit for human consumption and Gujaratis continued to favour groundnut oil.

Ten years ago, Gujarati entrepreneur Nimish Patel, owner of NK Proteins, decided to exploit latent demand by launching the ‘Maruti’ brand. The timing was fortuitous as groundnut oil was getting bad press for being blended with palmolein.

The introduction of BT cotton in 2002 and a six-fold jump in cotton production within a few years boosted supply of oil and gave a further fillip to the market. “By now, cottonseed oil had become well accepted in Gujarati households as healthy and affordable oil,” says Mallick.

While the peak marketing season for cotton in India is November to March, cottonseed is available throughout the year. Ample availability pulled down prices and ignited demand. Low prices give cottonseed oil a distinct edge over groundnut as well as mustard, soya and sunflower, the other oilseeds grown in India.

“India has always been a market of highly price-sensitive consumers. Even the difference of a few rupees is enough for people to switch their cooking medium. Other than palmolein, cottonseed oil is the cheapest in India,” says Mallick.

An added advantage is cottonseed oil has zero trans-fat and is heart-friendly.

In the US, the largest homegrown vegetable oil is back on the culinary map. Ever since New York City announced in 2006 it would ban trans-fats from restaurants, demand has doubled, says National Cottonseed Association. That growth is expected to continue with the recent ban in California and more to come.

While cottonseed oil is rising in supply and acceptability, groundnut oil is facing a crisis. Till a decade ago, a large proportion of groundnut crop in India was crushed for oil. Today, close to 95% of the harvest is eaten as a snack in India and overseas. That leaves mills with barely enough nuts to produce 1.20 lakh tonnes of groundnut oil in a year. The production of cottonseed oil this year is 10 times that.

The upshot of such popularity is that cotton is not just about the fibre value per acre anymore. A product once sold to help offset ginning costs is now a viable revenue stream. “Ginners pay farmers for cotton after factoring in earnings from all these products. So farmers too benefit from the value chain,” says Bajoria.

As always, what Gujarat does today, it wants the nation to do tomorrow. “We are soon going to launch cottonseed oil in Maharashtra,” says Mallick.

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