As with supplements, quality, stability, flavor and digestibility remain among the top concerns when it comes to marine nutraceuticals for foods.
The ocean covers approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface, but much of it is still a mystery. What we do know is that marine ingredients offer a number of health benefits. According to Chong Lee, a University of Rhode Island researcher and professor emeritus of food sciences, while nutraceuticals provide health benefits above and beyond traditional nutrients, “the nutraceutical market is dominated by terrestrial sources, like cranberries that provide antioxidants,” he said. “Marine nutraceuticals are something new, and now they are getting a lot more attention.”
“I think most people feel a natural affinity for the ocean and marine ingredients—most consumers know and/or perceive that healthy benefits from fish, seaweeds and especially omega products, which creates a ‘halo’ effect and a positive impact that spills over into botanical and/or nutraceutical ingredients that are of marine origin,” said Maider Gutierrez, marketing manager for Frutarom Health (Haifa, Israel). Marine nutraceuticals have been a part of the company’s program for about a decade.
“Marine nutraceuticals provide potent health benefits. Recent research has shown that health conscious people have begun to understand the health benefits they may derive from consuming marine nutraceuticals, especially chondroitin sulphate, fucoidan and astaxanthin, all which support a healthy lifestyle,” added Carol Cheow, general manager of California-based Cactus Botanics. “This is why, from our point of view, both fucoidan and astaxanthin can occupy segments of the dietary supplement market for quite a while, notably because research into these ingredients is growing.”
Cactus Botanics offers high-quality chondroitin sulphate from marine sources, as well as shark powder for joint support. The company also provides omega-3 powder extracted from algae, as well as fucoidan and astaxanthin. “The most successful and innovative marine nutraceuticals Cactus Botanics provides are fucoidan and astaxanthin,” Cheow noted. “Our fucoidan is extracted from kombu, which contains more fucoidan than other types of seaweed. And our astaxanthin exists abundantly in algae and it also can be obtained by fermentation.” While the market for marine nutraceuticals is still growing, the essential fatty acids (EFA) category slowed after a July 2013 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute linked omega-3s to prostate cancer. “It is no secret that the EFA category saw some softening this year, but we believe that this is not the long-term direction and are looking to stronger sales in 2015,” said April Lewton, category director—lipids for Nutegrity in California. “Our company, in particular, is committed to this category and fully believe in not only what we are doing, but the science that drives this category and the marketing companies that have a vested interest in seeing fish oil succeed long term. We work closely with our partners to develop their lines and garner more share.”
According to Becky Wright, marketing director for Washington-based Aker BioMarine Antarctic US, globally, most consumers are deficient in omega-3s, particularly EPA and DHA. And because the body can’t produce EFAs on its own, it must be obtained through food sources and supplementation. This, among a number of other reasons, is why the EFA category is bound to bounce back. “The omega-3 category is gaining more momentum. Sales are on the rise, partly due to a new omega-3 campaign initiated by GOED and industry partners,” she said. “As consumers continue to demand new delivery methods and options, the omega-3 market will have to continue to evolve.”
Beyond dietary supplements, marine nutraceutical ingredients are being incorporated into functional foods. For instance, while some people do not enjoy the taste of fish, foods such as cereal, pasta and oatmeal have been fortified with EFAs to help ensure that people get the required amount in their diet. According to Gutierrez, fish oil in a powder form provides a novel way to incorporate the benefits into a wider variety of products. “Sea-derived ingredients for both beauty from within, as well as for cosmetic products have been and will continue to grow as market segments,” he said.
And as consumers look for different delivery methods in the market, companies are working on new formulations. To that end, Aker BioMarine Antarctic US now offers a Superba Krill oil gummy bear product that provides the same omega-3 dose in a single serving as a traditional capsule of krill oil.
“Krill contains mostly phospholipid-bound omega-3s, which is a key differentiator when you compare it to triglyceride-bound omega-3s, such as those found in fish oil,” said Wright. “Phospholipid-bound omega-3s are immediately incorporated into cell membranes and delivered to the places in the body where they are needed most (i.e., heart, brain, joints). Triglyceride-bound omega-3s on the other hand have to be converted in the liver before they are available to the body’s cells, and then distributed to key tissues and organs in the body.”
Challenges & Concerns
While the category continues to grow and change, major concerns remain—scent, flavor and digestibility—especially when it comes to functional foods. According to Gutierrez, “a fishy smell or flavor will always be a turn off, no matter how good the ingredient is. “‘Deodorized’ omega oils and powders are very popular since they are easier ingredients to incorporate into a finished product and have less concern about odor and taste,” he explained.
Beyond the taste, scent and flavor issues, there are a number of other challenges that suppliers and manufacturers must consider when it comes to marine nutraceuticals, with quality, credibility, sustainability and efficacy at the top of many lists. “The EFA category is impacted by some of the same macrotrends that are seen throughout the industry. Consumers are concerned about taste, convenience, sustainability, non-GMO (genetically modified organism) and the source of their food, among other things,” said Nutegrity’s Lewton. “Consumers are more knowledgeable than ever with regard to choosing which product is right for them and their families. The decision process involves wanting a product that is not only great tasting and an easy way for to get their omega-3s, but one that they feel good about purchasing without concerns of quality or sustainability.”
Frutarom’s Gutierrez explained that quality can be addressed with careful harvest, processing and competent laboratory work, while efficacy should be supported with clinical data. “While in-vitro data is useful, products supported by human clinical studies, along with safety and tolerance data will typically gain the most traction with customers,” he said. “Human clinical studies to demonstrate efficacy and safety are almost required at this point. Companies and their customers are more savvy than ever and there needs to be strong points of differentiation in a crowded market.”
Wright agreed that sustainability is a major concern in the marine omega-3 market, adding that Aker Biomarine addresses the issue in several ways, including third part research, environmental partnerships and technological developments. “In terms of research, we’ve partnered with several outside institutions to monitor the krill biomass in the Southern Ocean and investigate the animal populations that depend on krill as a food source,” she said. “As far as partnerships go, we have a close relationship with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF-Norway), which helps us establish best practices and go above and beyond traditional sustainability requirements. Lastly, we have developed an eco-friendly harvesting technology (e.g., Eco-Harvesting), which helps us minimize environmental impact and eliminate by-catch. Last but not least, this gentle harvesting method helps us protect the nutritional integrity of the krill.”
And as suppliers and manufacturers look to expand the category, it is imperative that they remember that consumers rely on them to produce only reliable, quality products. “As an industry we must do everything we can to keep the high manufacturing standards expected of us. There is nothing more important than consistently producing quality material which is safe for consumption,” concluded Lewton. “For omega-3s, that starts with the manufacturer and ends with the brand on the shelf. We must be good stewards for the category as a whole and we have come a long way in defining what the quality standards should be globally via various industry and governmental bodies.” NIE