2016 Omega-3 Market Update: Fish Oil, Krill Oil, Astaxanthin, and More

Sep 12, 2016

The omega-3 market has had its share of obstacles in recent years: sales slumps, some negative publicity, and reliance on variable fish stocks. But industry pushes on. Sales are finally starting to grow again, albeit not yet to the levels seen during the ingredient’s heyday. The Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED; Salt Lake City) even went so far, as of this June, to predict 5% global growth—and even double-digit growth in Asia—through 2017.

Total growth will likely come from a combination of industry innovation and regulatory changes, both of which are ongoing around the world. Luckily, there’s exciting news in just about every corner of the omega-3 market, and there’s certainly more to come before year’s end.


Fish Oil

Fish oil makes up a majority of omega-3 product sales. Changes in the fish oil market are happening both internationally and nationally.

While the Peruvian anchoveta (Engraulis ringens) has historically been the world’s most-caught fish, this year marks the first time since 1998 that anchoveta is not the top-ranked species. According to the FAO’s latest State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report (SOFIA)1, the title now belongs to the Alaskan pollock (Theragra chalcogramma). Industry experts believe this shift is largely due to environmental impacts of El Niño, which are worse on Peruvian anchoveta than they are on Alaskan pollock. (It’s worth noting, though, that the anchoveta population has bounced back from El Niño weather before.)

Setting aside the question of which fish species reigns supreme, industry members are actively lobbying for regulatory improvements to benefit fish oil of all major species. An FDA qualified health claim for omega-3s and blood pressure has been pending in the U.S. for years. Latest reports from GOED, which filed the original request, indicate the wait continues. The association says that on July 29, FDA requested (for the sixth time) to delay its response, this time for 180 days more until January 27, 2017.

The potential awarding of a health claim could, of course, dramatically influence omega-3 sales locally. Earlier this year, Canada approved a food health claim for omega-3 EPA and DHA for lowering triglycerides, and GOED has modest expectations for growth in that market, led by clinical and medical foods.

Though the omega-3 markets in the U.S. and Canada differ in size, the combined industries await a regulatory update that could benefit both countries: the creation of dietary reference intakes (DRIs). GOED petitioned the U.S. and Canadian governments for omega-3 EPA/DHA DRIs back in the summer of 2013. For now, two non–omega-3 ingredients, sodium and potassium, are proposed for DRI reviews in fall 2017. If EPA and DHA are next up for review, that could lead to omega-3 DRIs, which would serve as a basis for nutrient content claims—a huge opportunity for the omega-3 industry.

Globally, omega-3 suppliers also await Codex’s upcoming fish oil standard, which would also apply to krill oil. The current language, however, is considered problematic based on, among other things, a potential total arsenic limit that industry argues doesn’t take into consideration the fact that organic arsenic should be treated differently from inorganic arsenic present in omega-3 oils.

While lobbyists and government bodies continue to hash out guidance and laws, fish oil harvesters and manufacturers have taken matters into their own hands with various efforts to improve the efficiency and safety of their products. Last year, for instance, ingredient supplier Organic Technologies (Coshocton, OH) set a total oxidation limit of 5 for its entire AlaskOmega Alaskan Pollock fish oil line—a threshold that outperforms the industry standard. A fresher oil translates into better sensory characteristics for a more stable and appealing product, the company says.

“The feedback from our customers has been really positive,” says Steve Dillingham, global director, AlaskOmega ingredients. “We have experienced a significant increase in AlaskOmega customers wanting to co-brand their finished products with the AlaskOmega trademark to promote the quality of the omega-3 ingredient.”

Other suppliers are innovating to pack more EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids into a single dose. FMC/EPAX (Sandvika, Norway), DSM Nutritional Products (Parsippany, NJ), and BASF (Florham Park, NJ) all introduced ultra-high concentrates last year.

Still others are hoping to capture new sales through appealing delivery systems. Glanbia Nutritionals (Fitchburg, WI) and SternVitamin (Ahrensburg, Germany) now offer omega-3 powders suitable for tablets and other delivery formats beyond soft gels alone, with high stability and no fishy burps. Cargill (Minneapolis) continues its sales of IngreVita, a stable oil blending high-oleic canola oil, fish oil, and antioxidants, suited for a wide range of food and beverage applications. And Dillingham says Organic Technologies is seeing increased demand for its omega-3 triglyceride concentrates for use in liquid products.

Because marine omega-3 oils have unique qualities, Capsugel (Morristown, NJ) offers a portfolio of encapsulation platforms specifically suited for these oils, including fish and krill oil. Its Licaps OceanCaps capsules allow for the manufacture of an all-marine product, as they’re made with fish ingredients—“high-quality, farmed-fish gelatin, a renewable resource,” the firm says.



  1. www.fao.org/3/a-i5555e.pdf
  2. Nunes AJP et al., “Growth performance of the white shrimp, Litopenaeus vannamei, fed on practical diets with increasing levels of the Antarctic krill meal, Euphausia superba, reared in clear- versus green-water culture tanks,” Aquaculture Nutrition. Published online September 14, 2010.
  3. Urch M. “Financial Constraints Put Brakes on China’s ‘Krill Project’.” www.seafoodsource.com/all-commentary/financial-constraints-put-brakes-on-china-s-krill-project
  4. Markets and Markets, “Carotenoids Market worth 1.53 Billion USD by 2021.” www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/carotenoid.asp
  5. Sprague M et al., “Impact of sustainable feeds on omega-3 long-chain fatty acid levels in farmed Atlantic salmon, 2006–2015,” Scientific Reports. Published online February 22, 2016.