The omega-3s market has certainly seen its share of ups and downs. While it’s true that fish oils are one of the most widely consumed supplements available, recent years have nevertheless seen declining sales for the once-stoppable category. With consumers latching onto tantalizing headlines touting a tenuous connection between long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and prostate cancer risk, plus the introduction of fish oil drugs and sustainability concerns, sales were bound to falter.
On the Rebound
So, why are omega-3s on Nutritional Outlook’s Ingredients to Watch list? Katrin Berntsen, director of communications, Aker BioMarine (Oslo, Norway), acknowledges that the category is “rebounding from a few soft years,” but adds that innovation in the category will likely buoy sales in the year to come. And thanks to a bevy of regulatory and research initiatives funded by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED; Salt Lake City), the proliferation of alternative omega-3 formats, and some innovative direct-to-consumer marketing, the tide is sure to turn.
GOED reports that in 2016, the volume of omega-3 oils featured in products globally was up 2% from 2015. The value of the omega-3 oil ingredients, says Aldo Bernasconi, PhD, director of information and research, GOED, was $1.2 billion worldwide.
GOED has, of course, been a major player in the rehabilitation of the EPA/DHA omega-3 market, and 2017 was a banner year. In July, GOED announced that the Codex Alimentarius Commission had finally adopted a fish and krill oil standard. GOED’s research initiatives are also particularly notable. In 2017, GOED funded several meta-analyses analyzing, among other things, the effect of EPA and DHA omega-3s on the risk of coronary heart disease and the potential for EPA and DHA supplementation to reduce the risk of cardiac death. GOED also published a scientific paper “which refuted a publication questioning quality and labeling claims of fish oil supplements in New Zealand.”
And it surely doesn’t hurt that last March, the American Heart Association published new recommendations for the role of marine-derived omega-3 supplements in preventing cardiovascular disease. In the updated scientific advisory, the authors wrote that omega-3 fish oil supplements can assist with secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death in patients with prevalent coronary heart disease and in patients with heart failure.
Elsewhere, GOED’s Guidelines for Controlling Omega-3 Oxidation best practices document, which was published last October, helps GOED members prevent and minimize the risk of oxidation that threatens omega-3 oils at various points along the supply chain. The document notes that the oxidation of omega-3s not only leads to rancidity, but also diminishes the ingredient’s nutritional value. And omega-3 companies are rising to meet the high-quality bar. Steve Dillingham, global director, AlaskOmega Ingredients, which is owned by Organic Technologies (Coshocton, OH), says that its omega-3 concentrates have a maximum total oxidation (TOTOX) limit of 5, “more than a five-fold reduction from the limit of 26 set by GOED.”
Raising the Bar
Regulatory efforts like GOED’s are a boon in a market that’s becoming more varied by the day. Bernasconi says that there is a trend toward “products that offer a different value proposition.” For example, he says, “as the markets become more mature, consumers have started to move away from standard refined fish oils, and toward other products, particularly concentrates. Concentrates have the advantage of being able to deliver the same dosage of EPA/DHA from smaller or fewer capsules. So, in the U.S. and Europe, the volume of refined fish oils is decreasing, and concentrates are increasing.”
This trend might bode well for the omega-3 category as a whole, particularly as more expensive fish oil-based drugs become a category all their own. Bernasconi says that in addition to high-concentrate DHA/EPA omega-3 supplements, U.S. consumers are interested in alternative delivery forms. “Smaller capsules, tablets, emulsions, and liquid forms—the proportion of omega-3s used in those forms has doubled since 2010.” In Asia, he adds, cod liver pills are seeing rapid growth.
Dillingham agrees that the high-concentrate omega-3 market is seeing success, and adds that the triglyceride (TG) bound form of omega-3s is also increasingly in demand, “presumably for TG’s optimal stability and sensory profile for use in liquid formulations and higher quality softgels.” Finally, Dillingham says, omega-7s may be poised to becoming the Next Big Thing in 2018. AlaskOmega has added both a 50% and 70% omega-7 concentrate in ethyl ester (EE) form, with a brand-new TG omega-7 concentrate slated to launch early this year.
AkerBiomarine, for its part, is diversifying its product portfolio with “new product offerings and different oil grades,” Berntsen says. But fish oils are not the only omega-3s seeing innovation. Berntsen says that krill oil is currently the number one growing omega-3 supplement, and adds that Aker BioMarine saw “good growth” in that category in 2017—a trend that the company expects to continue in 2018.
Not only are there more options for consumers to reap the heart-health and anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3s, but some companies are taking innovative approaches toward increasing consumer awareness about the importance of omega-3s for an overall healthy lifestyle. Good press is good press. To that end, Aker BioMarine’s Omega-3 Index Project, which first launched in the fall of 2016, aims to educate consumers about omega-3 deficiency. “By using a simple nutritional tool called The Omega-3 Index Test,” Berntsen says, “everyone will be able to measure their omega-3 levels, and then take the proper steps to devise an omega-3 regimen that works for them.” Consumers administer the test (using a small, finger-pricking device), return the blood sample via mail, and await the results.
“By working with our customers, industry partners, and the media, we are able to help spread the word about the Omega-3 Index Project and bring more attention to the campaign,” Berntsen says. And drawing the eyes of consumers and industry partners can only benefit the entire industry.
2017 Ingredient Trends to Watch for Food, Drinks, and Dietary Supplements: