Crisis of raw materials and low demand for the healthy oil in the market throws the industry in crisis
Jamuna Edible Oil Industries Limited set up a rice bran oil factory in Rajshahi's Godagari in 2012. Three years later the company started marketing their brand "Shera".
Five years later the company has cut its production and is trying to close down.
And it's not only Jamuna Oil, another producer, Green Oil and Poultry Feed Industries, is also considering going the same way as Jamuna as they too fight for survival in a market that is not too warm for this special oil.
Out of 20 companies that got licences from the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution, only seven companies are in regular production, three have completely shut down their productions and the remaining ones are in irregular production.
The factories that have closed last year are: Spondon produced by Emerald Oil, Al-Noor Agro Industries and KBC Agro Products Private Limited.
Emerald is a publicly listed company and closure of its production has thrown hundreds of shareholders and a number of lenders in deep uncertainty.
The Business Standard talked to these companies, which came into the market with big promises less than a decade ago to understand why they have failed so early.
The reasons seem typical of businesses, crisis of raw materials and low demand. Failure to compete on price with soybean and palm oil is another reason, businesses said.
Subhas Kundu, general manager of Jamuna Agro Products Limited, told The Business Standard that they have to suspend production occasionally every year due to the supply crisis of rice bran, the raw material
for the oil.
"Considering all these, we are trying to quit the business and focus on soybean oil," said Kundu.
Rice bran oil is extracted from the hard outer brown layer of rice called husk. It is considered to be a healthy oil for its antioxident content.
In a 2015 research, Bangladesh Tariff Commission projected rice bran oil as a sector with huge potential. It said Bangladesh has the capacity to produce 2.58 lakh tonnes of rice bran oil for which around 13 lakh tonnes of bran were required.
According to the research, though over 36 lakh tonnes of rice bran are produced annually in the country, oil producers get an annual supply of only 4.5 lakh tonnes, just one-eighth of their needs.
It takes 6.5 kg of bran to produce one litre of oil. When rice is produced from paddy, only 7 to 8 percent bran is available.
According to the market players, all companies produced less than one lakh tonnes of the cooking oil mainly due to the shortage of bran.
Prices also matter for the consumers and sellers as well.
The price of rice bran oil is higher than the most popular edible oil soybean. A litre of soybean oil is now available for Tk110 but a liter of rice bran oil costs Tk130-135.
An official of Agora super shop outlet at Segunbagicha said, "One year back we had six to eight brands of rice bran oil in this outlet. But now we have only two to three brands because of low demands."
Only three brands of rice bran oil were found in a Swapno super shop outlet in the same area. However, the super shops sell sunflower oil of different brands which are in more demand.
"As far as I know, the market for rice bran oil is not so good," said Khurshid Alam, director of TK Group that purchases bulk oil from other producers and sell those in the retail market under their own brand.
There are six other companies: ACI, Bangladesh Edible Oil, Natore Agro Products and Ifad that are also in rice bran oil business like that of TK Group.
According to researchers, the rice bran oil is much healthier than the other oils found in the market.
Khaleda Islam, professor of Institute of Food and Nutrition of Dhaka University, said, "Rice bran oil is cholesterol-free. It contains some minerals and cancer- preventing Omega-3 and Omega-6 proteins. So, it is healthier than soybean oil."
However, a 2018 research by Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council found around 25 percent of the rice bran oil available in the market are of low-quality.
No hope in export
India is the only importer of rice bran oil from Bangladesh. The local producers have been trying to export to Sri Lanka, Japan and China, but so far they have not seen any success.
In 2017-18, 20,000 tonnes of rice bran oil were exported to India, said the oil companies quoting data from Export Development Bureau (EPB).
In 2012-13, a small amount of rice bran oil was exported to Singapore, India and Spain.
There is a huge demand for rice bran oil in European countries. But the factories in Bangladesh cannot produce the high quality oil that European consumers demand. The factories said maintaining the acidity and fat levels are the main problems.
There are also allegations purity of the rice bran oil produced in Bangladesh is questionable.
Mahfuzur Rahman, General Manager (export) of Ifad Multiproducts, told The Business Standard, "The highest demand in Europe is of rice bran oil. But we are not able to produce as per their requirement. So, for the time being, we are unable to enter the European market."