Omega-3 essential fatty acids, both marine- and terrain-sourced, continue to be quite the vibrant, evolving category. Consumers are invested—here’s what the category looks like for 2018.
For years, more American adults were proclaiming, “I want my EFAs!” And for good reason; popular health media continue to tout the benefits of docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentanoic acid—DHA and EPA.
In the past five years, the market has seen dips and gains after years of growth. According to Ellen Schutt, communications director of Utah-based GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s), recent indicators show that the U.S. market for omega-3 EFAs, which is currently stabilized, is returning to growth after a decline that began in late 2013. In 2015, the global EPA and DHA market tallied at 88,600 metric tons (mT) of ingredient oils, worth $1.16 billion, and the global volume was flat. According to GOED’s preliminary estimates, the global ingredient volume in 2016 grew at a rate of 1 to 2 percent. “In the U.S., early estimates indicate that the volume remained relatively flat in 2016 and appears poised to return to modest growth in 2017,” Schutt reported. “Factors impacting a return to growth include ongoing scientific developments, and more crucially, continuing positive media.”
In agreement is Katrin Berntsen, director of communications for Norway-based Aker BioMarine, who observed that in the past couple of years, “the omega-3 market has been flat, but most recently it has started to pick up the pace and head toward new and exciting areas.” Innovation and new product launches, she noted, have been the key drivers to consumer excitement and growth in the omega-3 market, and krill oil is now an increasingly popular option in the omega-3 space.
There have been other impacts in the market. For example, said Ben Kelly, co-founder of Algarithm, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, there has been a significant shift in consumer preference of omega-3 sources; consumers, he noted, prefer to obtain these nutrients from functional foods over pills. “Many consumers are part of a plant-based movement currently led by food tech companies such as Beyond Meat, Hampton Creek and Impossible Foods, which are replacing animal-sourced proteins with plants,” he said, adding that Algarithm “is extending the trend to lipid ingredients.”
Higher EPA and DHA concentrations are now beginning to enter the mass market, observed Anne Healy, senior marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products – North America in New Jersey. The company, she reported, recently launched 3C Technology, a “radically efficient” process technology that makes high concentrations of omega-3s more accessible. Further, 3C Technology isolates and separates EPA and DHA, for “greater nutritional precision,” assisting formulators to potentially be more innovative.
Innovation in this space has been focusing on the “changing paradigm from intake to uptake, from dosage to delivery, which will transform R&D and product development strategies,” described Abhijit Natu, global marketing manager, North America, BASF Nutrition & Health, based in New Jersey. He added, “Scientific evidence links an improved omega-3 index to enhanced health, especially cardiovascular health. We’ve learned from past mistakes in study designs, and have a better understanding of the importance of omega-3 bioavailability and the implications for dietary supplement innovation.”
Innovation in any market and the ability to achieve consistent growth are not without challenges to overcome. Some in the omega-3 space involve consumer habits. For example, said Healy, consumers are confused at point-of-sale due to such a variety of choices; they have not been educated as to how to select what’s most suitable for them. Brand marketers should educate more assertively about how it is important to choose by amount of EPA and DHA in each serving, instead of amount of total fish oil.
Berntsen agreed, asserting that the multitude of products on store shelves makes it more important than ever for consumers to understand more comprehensively what they are buying and why. To that end, she said, Aker Biomarine has created The Omega-3 Index Project to help increase awareness about EPA and DHA insufficiency, and to encourage consumers to regularly measure their omega-3 levels and seek suitable sources.
Another challenge in consumer knowledge, Natu pointed out, is that they still don’t quite grasp the importance of bioavailability, among other factors. Citing GOED research, he said, “nearly half of Americans are not trying to get omega-3 in their diet. Additionally, the omega-3 status in 95 percent of Americans is below levels associated with cardio-protection. Without education, these figures will not improve,” he warned.
In tandem, although physicians are trusted sources for consumer education, even they can be confused, he added. The industry must collaborate cohesively to educate health care practitioners to communicate accurate information about this vast category. BASF is a part of GOED’s Executive Council for Education and Outreach, an ongoing campaign focused on educating physicians.
Clinical study outcomes and related research can be confusing to consumers, and this is compounded by the fact that EPA and DHA have a vast number of studies, some conflicting. “The biggest challenges continue to be confusion about the science supporting omega-3s and questions about oxidation of omega-3 oils,” observed Schutt. Regarding research, GOED has been funding new science on omega-3s to fill the research gaps, and has published two meta analyses during 2017. The first reinforced the link between omega-3 intake and reduced risk of coronary heart disease; and the second clarified the connection between omega-3s and a reduced risk of cardiac death.
Oxidation is another issue often misunderstood not just by consumers but by industry as well, Schutt added. “Oxidation is incorrectly described as a safety issue when there are no studies that show that consuming oxidized omega-3 oils is unsafe,” she said. “Also, most omega-3 oils are within oxidative limits and far below oxidation levels for oils like olive oil, which are more broadly consumed in much higher serving sizes.”
GOED recently completed a study that independently tested the top 50 omega-3 products in the United States and found high compliance levels; Schutt said these findings will be published soon. Relatedly, GOED also recently published Best Practices for Oxidation Control to help the industry understand the steps to take to minimize oxidation throughout the production process and improve quality product overall.
Oil freshness is always a challenge for manufacturers, pointed out Steve Dillingham, global director, AlaskOmega Ingredients, Organic Technologies, of Ohio. Once the oxidation process begins, it cannot be stopped, only curtailed, which “is why it is critical for manufacturers to have control over the supply chain and production process to help reduce oil oxidation.”
Dillingham added that Organic Technologies is able to manufacture its AlaskOmega omega-3 concentrates to “such high freshness and purity standards.” Raw oil is extracted from the trimmings of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified wild Alaska pollock sourced from the Bering Sea within a few hours after catch, and then transported to the company’s NSF-certified GMP (good manufacturing practice) manufacturing facility and gently processed through a proprietary purification and concentration process to extract and purify EPA and DHA concentrates to very high purity levels (80 percent EPA+DHA). Products are kept under inert gas and away from oxygen throughout the entire process to ensure that AlaskOmega oils have the utmost freshness and quality. “AlaskOmega omega-3 concentrates have a maximum TOTOX limit of 5, more than a five-fold reduction from the limit of 26 set by GOED,” he explained. “Typical AlaskOmega TOTOX values range between 0-3! Fresher oil translates into better product stability, longer shelf life and optimal sensory characteristics.”
Helping consumers properly distinguish alpha linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 EFA is another challenge. Further, there are opposing views as to the efficacy of ALA as an omega-3 EFA. Kelly asserted that “many people believe you can get the same nutritional benefit from flax as from algae or fish, when the reality is that most ALA will not convert to EPA and DHA in the body due to a variety of reasons. This issue in particular is going to require ongoing education at the consumer level that organizations like GOED are conducting.”
An opposing viewpoint is offered by Sandra Gillot, CEO of Benexia, Santiago de Chile, a supplier of chia seed ingredients. “A study published in Nutrients has shown that women who consume Benexia chia oil transferred high levels of DHA to their infants during breast-feeding,” she said. “It is the first published study of its type involving pregnant and lactating women.” The authors measured the transfer of fatty acids (ALA, DHA EPA) to the fetus (blood phospholipids) and breast milk in women who supplemented with chia oil during pregnancy and lactation. The authors, said Gillot, explained that through a series of enzymatic reactions of elongation and desaturation, which occurs mainly in the liver, ALA is ﬁrst transformed into EPA, then to DHA. “The values of ALA/EPA /DHA suggest a higher bioconversion of the omega-3 precursor ALA from consumption of chia oil, and that it could be a valuable addition to the diets of pregnant and lactating women,” she commented.
According to Schutt, there are now more sources of omega-3 EFAs coming online. “In addition to an explosion in algae offerings from various strains with varying amounts of EPA and DHA, there are now offerings from calamari oil, hoki oil and herring roe, just to name a few. Also under development are several genetically modified (GM) plants that can express EPA and DHA. Once these are commercialized they should have a major influence on the market of tomorrow,” she said.
No matter the source—plant or marine—omega-3 EFAs are derived from natural resources, and due to the very high volume demanded by consumers, sustainability is a primary concern. BASF sources its fish oil from sardines and anchovies from Peru and Chile, and, said Natu, its sustainable sourcing approach was reviewed by the global auditing company, SGS Germany GmbH, which confirmed BASF established a sustainable sourcing process for its omega-3 products. BASF’s approach to omega-3 sustainability consists of three principles: sustainable sourcing, operational excellence, and more sustainable omega-3 end products, according to Natu.
“Sustainable sourcing starts with choosing partners that practice sustainability principles,” he said. “Unregulated fishing can damage fragile marine ecosystems and vulnerable species, which in turn may reduce future productivity and biodiversity, and create imbalances in the ecosystem.”
Operational excellence, Natu described, “is critical to reduce waste, save resources and create synergies. BASF works to minimize emission and bio-diversity impact. Waste reduction and recycling are key focus areas, as well as energy efficiency. We focus on the optimal use of side streams of the main production line, allowing to extract almost all of the valuable omega-3 (EPA and DHA) components from the fish oil.”
Finished product sustainability minimizes oxidation, which increases shelf life. Additionally, Natu said, smaller products with highly concentrated omega-3s require less volume for packaging material, fewer soft gels to achieve an effective dosage, and less weight for transportation.
Algarithm’s product, said Kelly, has long-chain DHA that is similar to authentic fish oil, but is also contaminant free and vegetarian, “making it more sustainable and equally nutritious. We like to think of it as a fish-free fish oil. You can’t get much more sustainable than that.”
DSM is ranked second on Fortune magazine’s 2017 Change the World list, an annual publication of companies that have a positive social impact through activities that are part of their core business strategy, according to Healy. DSM sources fish for MEG-3 oils from regulated wild fisheries where equipment, practices and procedures are in place to protect fish stocks. “We also turn fish oil processing waste into biofuel to operate our state-of-the-art fish oil production facility in Mulgrave, Nova Scotia,” she described.
Schutt asserted that there is a huge misconception that marine-based sources of DHA and EPA are being overfished and depleted. “This is not the case,” she stated. “In almost all cases, omega-3 fisheries are managed sustainably and with third-party oversight. The Arctic cod fishery, the Alaskan pollock fishery and the Antarctic krill fishery are all MSC-certified. The Peruvian anchovy fishery, where most fish oil supplements are sourced, is overseen by IMARPE (Instituto del Mar del Peru), a governmental scientific body that organizes sonar surveys of the fish biomass at least twice a year to ensure there are enough adult fish available to harvest. In the last several years, Schutt reported, the fishery has been closed twice for a fishing season twice due to the presence of too many juveniles.
Berntsen noted that Aker BioMarine received an “A” rating for sustainability from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) for two consecutive years. “Sustainability is something that we take very seriously, especially given the delicate nature of where krill comes from,” she added.
With these challenges in mind and the notion that science continues to explore impact of omega-3 EFAs in humans (and in some cases, companion animals as well), there are some developments that may prove exciting for the category for 2018.
BASF’s Pronova Heritage, said Natu, offers a high concentration of omega-3 EFAs (60 to 90 percent). Its 46:38 EPA:DHA product is, he said, “the most clinically studied omega-3 composition.” BASF donated omega-3 concentrates for the largest omega-3 study in the U.S., the ongoing VITAL trial (VITamin D and OmegA 3 Trial). VITAL is being conducted at Harvard with 25,000 participants, and is expected to be completed in 2018.
Udaya Wanasundara, PhD, principal scientist, POS Bio-Sciences, Saskatoon, SK, Canada explained that just this year (2017), Algarithm was created as a spinout from POS Bio-Sciences (which introduced canola oil). In the supplement market, Algarithm plans to launch several combination products with partners, algal DHA concentrates (60 and 80 percent DHA) and high active ingredient powders to allow for delivery of more DHA per serving. “A few supplement products have already launched with our algal oil in it, and we expect with more time we will see more food applications finalize and launch as well,” he said.
“Expect to see higher concentrations of EPA and DHA and more tailored solutions in the future,” predicted Healy, noting that DSM’s portfolio of plant-based omega-3 products, life’sDHA, is a vegetarian and sustainable source of DHA, while its life’sOMEGA is a plant-based omega-3 containing both EPA and DHA.
Also expecting to grow heartily is personalized nutrition, and omega-3s are set to be a significant part of this trend. Said Natu, “Personalized nutrition will continue to be an important factor in the future of omega-3 science and marketing. No longer is it a one dose fits all. Consumers will be encouraged to check their omega-3 levels before and during supplementation.“
Berntsen agreed, elaborating, “The idea is to get people more motivated to act when it comes to omega-3 intake, particularly because EPA and DHA are so essential to everyone’s diets. Using a simple nutritional tool called The Omega-3 Index Test, everyone will be able to measure their omega-3 levels, and then take steps to devise an omega-3 regimen that works for them.”
Additionally, the company recently launched Superba Boost, a krill oil concentrate that features several enhancements over typical krill oil, including higher amounts of phospholipids, choline and omega-3s.
According to Dillingham, AlaskOmega added two new DHA omega-3 concentrates to its line in September of this year, a high DHA concentrate and a medium strength DHA (non-tuna) tuna oil alternative. AlaskOmega’s high DHA concentrate, he explained, offers a minimum 460 mg/g DHA, 100 mg/g EPA in triglyceride (TG) form (TG100460). The tuna oil alternative is made from wild Alaska Pollock and provides the same EPA/DHA content typically found in tuna oil (min. 50 mg/g EPA, 250 mg/g DHA in TG form). Both DHA oils are MSC-certified and well suited for formulators looking for a fully sustainable DHA oil source that is extremely low in oxidation, and offers excellent sensory characteristics.
EPA, DHA and ALA will continue to be sought out by consumers, and recommended by more physicians. As such, innovations for easy consumption, bioavailability and utilization will continue, and older characteristics attached to these supplements, notably “fish burp,” are dwindling quickly in the rearview mirror. NIE
For More Information:
Aker BioMarine, (732) 860-0137
AlaskOmega Ingredients, (740) 622-0755
BASF, (800) 527-9881
GOED, (801) 746-1413