About four years ago, Helena Jette was attending an event at what was then Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. As director of biofuels for Indiana Soybean Alliance, she was looking for opportunities to promote one of Indiana’s top crops, soybeans. The effort paid off as ISA this week announced a partnership with Pacers Sports & Entertainment Inc. for the use of high oleic soybean oil in food preparation at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Jette said final details are being worked out, but she expects the partnership to last.
“They host over 300 events a year from concerts to ice skating to basketball games. There is a lot that goes into cooking food and beverage, so I’d see this (partnership) as having good longevity,” said Jette.
LISTEN: Jette further explains the foundational efforts to develop the partnership.
For about a decade, the soybean industry has been promoting high oleic soybean oil as a healthier alternative to other vegetable oils. The oil is crushed from GMO soybeans and offers lower saturated fats than conventional soybeans.
“We have a really great story that the Pacers can tell, and that was really what sold them on wanting to tell the sustainability story around using local soybean farms and agriculture and having a sustainability heart healthy oil that’s got a longer shelf life than,” Jette explained.
In addition to the usage of high oleic oil, visitors to the fieldhouse will see signage throughout the complex with the slogan “We Grow Soybeans” and informational signs about the health benefits of the oil.
Indiana farmers harvested about 5.8 million acres of soybeans in 2022, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The ISA says as much as 9% of the acreage is used for high oleic beans. According to ISA, Indiana is the top producer of high oleic soybeans in the U.S.
“We’re well over 50% of total acreage committed to high oleic nationally,” said Ed Ebert, senior director of market development for the Indiana Soybean Alliance.
Because of growing market demand by the food sector, farmers are paid a premium price above the regular price for commodity beans.
With the current cash price for a bushel of soybeans at approximately $14.60 per bushel, the premium is above two dollars per bushel, said Ebert
“The demand for high oleic soybean oil has just exploded here in the last two or three years. Higher soybean oil prices have played into that dynamic. But certainly, when you see a premium go from 25 to 50 cents and have it go to something above $2 in a relatively short period of time, that’s the market telling you, ‘We want this,’” said Ebert.
High oleic soybean oil is a new vegetable oil that lasts longer for food preparation in commercial kitchens and bakeries – making it more economical. Ebert says international demand for high oleic oil is also growing.
“Globally, outside of the U.S., people who are in food service and other applications are starting to see the benefits of this product as well. So, you’ve not only got domestic demand that’s really been very, very strong, but now you’ve got global demand that’s building as well. It’s got a great story for Indiana and U.S. farmers as a whole.
Ebert says Gainbridge food service is still using supplies of other cooking oils, but it started using high oleic oil in mid-December.
LISTEN: Ebert shares insight to the added value for Indiana farmers that grow this soybean variety.
ISA Chair Mike Koehne, who grows high oleic soybeans on his Decatur County farm, says the Pacers partnership builds upon an already-growing market for Indiana soybeans.
“To have the Pacers agree to use high oleic soybean oil in food preparation at games and events in Gainbridge Fieldhouse will benefit the Pacers, their fans and Indiana soybean farmers. This partnership is a slam dunk.”