Continuing innovation in algae-DHA: Natural Products Expo West 2024 Report

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At this year’s Natural Products Expo West, two brands have launched their own versions of algae DHA ingredients; FrieslandCampina and Aker BioMarine. Each brand showcased a different approach to the ingredient.

Photo © AdobeStock.com/Andreas Nägeli

Photo © AdobeStock.com/Andreas Nägeli

Algae-derived omega-3s continue to grow as a category. At this year’s Natural Products Expo West, two brands have launched their own versions of algae DHA ingredients; FrieslandCampina and Aker BioMarine. Each brand showcased a different approach to the ingredient.

Aker BioMarine, an established company in the omega-3 space specializing in krill launched FloraMarine, touting a 60% DHA load, which the company says is the highest on the market, and is not up-concentrated. The company sees a great deal of opportunity in the algae omega-3 space, as fish oils get more expensive, largely due to aquaculture.

“Right now, the industry is already starting to feel that the product availability for fish oil omega-3 is starting to be difficult, and I believe it's going to be much harder in the future,” explains Aker BioMarine’s CEO Matts Johansen. “So, the last couple of years, the demand from the aquaculture industry is starting to grow with the industry growth, 4-5% per year, while the access to fish oil is flat. And that's what we're feeling right now. And you have a bad fishing season in the Peru on top of that.

"But long term has nothing to do with the situation in Peru right now. It's going to be a squeeze and it's so profitable, especially in the salmon farming industry, even if omega-3 price goes high, [the aquaculture industry] will still be able to buy. So, this problem we're facing now with the availability of omega-3s is just going to be worse in the future.”

Therefore, while sustainability may be a concern when it comes to fish oil, the larger issue Johansen points to is demand of fish oil across different industries that supply may not be able to meet. While aquaculture can handle the rising prices, other industries such as the nutraceutical industry may not. That is why algae omega-3 options are such an area of opportunity. Plant-based omegas have been on the market for some time but when it comes to DHA, fish oil has been the primary source. Algae DHA offers a vegan and sustainable alternative that is only becoming more attractive to product manufacturers due to market forces.

While Aker went the route of delivering a high DHA load that will find its way into more traditional dosage formats such as softgels, FrieslandCampina Ingredients opted to offer algae-DHA that is better suited for a variety of alternative dosage formats as well as other ingredients. FrieslandCampina Ingredients' Biotis DHA FlexP 15 and Biotis DHA FlexP 20 are microencapsulated, and offer 15% and 20% DHA, respectively. The former is vegan, while the latter uses dairy protein in the powder matrix, making it vegetarian.

“So, we have over than 20 years’ experience with this technology of encapsulation. [Encapsulation] makes [Biotis DHA FlexP] easier to formulate also with other ingredients like probiotics, prebiotics, minerals, other vitamins,” says Sophie Zillinger Molenaar, FrieslandCampina Ingredients' globabl marketing lead. “Of course, the taste [is important] because [omega-3s are] known for the taste or maybe the off taste, the fishy taste. By using this technology, it has a great taste actually.”

Additionally, the algae-DHA is encapsulated with vitamin C which also allows brands to utilize the ingredient in immune health formulations or to make immune health structure-function claims. At Expo, the company showcased the ingredients in a number of dosage formats to demonstrate its versatility.

“We’re really build on long standing processing capabilities of spray drying omega-3 oils, which we have been doing for the infant formula industry for many, many years now. But with what we launched here today at Expo West, is really trying to use that technology to create new concepts for adult nutrition applications like for a gummy or a fast melt, or a stick powder sachet,” says Auke Zeilstra, managing director for North America at FrieslandCampina Ingredients.

The priority for FrieslandCampina Ingredients is to offer an approachable product because despite the recognition and usage of omega-3s, they are still associated with some negative organoleptic properties.

“Consumers tend to know the benefits of omega-3 oil, but what is holding them back? If you would look at the compounded annual growth rates with products containing [omega-3s] or just omega-3 oils themselves, [growth is] actually not upticking as we would expect which is driven by the fishy off notes that normally come with these kind of products, but also that if you really want the intake needed [for results], you would have to take quite an oversized capsule,” explains Zeilstra. “Especially older people, they don't like that they need to swallow [such a big capsule]. So here with this new ingredient, in this kind of format that we presented, it's much more approachable…[without] the sensory off notes that usually come [with fish oil omega-3s].”

We can expect to see more launches and further innovation in the algae-DHA space. What was once seen as a solution to round out plant sources of EPA and ALA with a plant-based DHA is now being embraced by the wider omega-3 space.

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