Everywhere Omega Fatty Acids


Options for omega fatty acids are growing as supply diversifies.

If you’re looking for growth in the nutrition market, look no further than omega fatty acids. This category-omega-3 fatty acids in particular-is growing hard, fast, and in many directions.

For just the DHA and EPA omega-3 ingredients market, Frost & Sullivan estimated 2011 global revenue of $1.86 billion. More significantly, it predicts a 13.6% CAGR for 2012 to 2016. (GOED, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3, presented these Frost & Sullivan numbers at the SupplySide MarketPlace trade show in May.)

A lot of moving parts are driving growth, not the least of which are growing research and consumer usage. Another contributor is simply more ingredient sources and suppliers in the omega fatty acids market overall, translating into more choices for consumers as well.

* This article focuses on market developments other than sustainability. Later this year, look for comprehensive Nutritional Outlook coverage on omega-3 sustainability.


Fish, not surprisingly, continue to dominate the omega-3 ingredient supply. Anchovies and sardines lead, accounting for close to 80% of supply, according to GOED/Frost & Sullivan. They are followed, to a much smaller extent, by cod and tuna, which each account for less than 10% of the market. Part of the appeal of anchovies and sardines is their high EPA/DHA content per fish, said Ellen Schutt, GOED’s communications director.

Fish oil will continue to drive the market, but the market may look quite different tomorrow. For one thing, more of the market is trending toward high-concentrate products, especially in North America.

“Consumers are trading up from some of the lower-concentrate products to higher-concentrate products,” said Schutt. “They want to get more EPA/DHA per capsule or softgel.” Higher concentrations give consumers the benefit of getting the same health-promoting levels of EPA and DHA, but in smaller-or fewer-capsules or softgels.

Brandon Nomura, territory manager for ingredients supplier Soft Gel Technologies Inc. (Los Angeles), says, “The previous standard of fish oils was a 1000 mg (180 mg EPA/120 mg DHA, 30% concentration). These days, there are many products at or above 60%.”

“The high-concentrate omega-3 market is definitely growing,” confirms Claus Kjaersgaard, vice president of consumer healthcare for Pronova BioPharma (Lysaker, Norway). Quoting Frost & Sullivan, the company says the high-concentrate omega-3 consumer market is worth around $1 billion and growing at 20% yearly.

Kjaersgaard continues, “It seems that single-strength [30-50% concentration] products are the entry point into the category for consumers. The tendency, however, is that once consumers become more ‘omega-3 savvy,’ they trade up to higher concentrates-double and triple strength-for greater benefits.”

Marci van der Meulen, national sales manager, retail, for supplements brand Nordic Naturals, further explains, “More and more positive research about high-potency omega-3 products is reaching the public through the media, doctors, healthcare practitioners, etc. As this knowledge becomes more mainstream, people understand the value of higher potencies to support the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response, which benefits heart health, brain health, mood, and a variety of other conditions. Also, doctors are recommending higher potencies, so the market for concentrated levels of EPA and DHA will likely increase.”

In fact, Kjaersgaard says, according to analysis done by Pronova BioPharma, in 2002, 75% of U.S. omega-3 consumption came from single-strength concentrates (30-50%), and only 2% came from triple-strength concentrates. By contrast, he says, in 2012, the company expects that only a quarter of the U.S. market will be from single-strength concentrates, and more than 40% will be from triple-strength concentrates. “As markets around the world mature, we expect to see similar developments,” he adds.

High concentrates also include omega-3 pharmaceutical drugs. A host of new companies are expected to enter the omega-3 drug market over the next few years. Currently, Pronova BioPharma’s omega-3 drug Omacor/Lovaza for high triglycerides, and Epadel, a pharmaceutical available in Japan, constitute the $1.6 billion omega-3 drug market. The wave of new players expected to join the brand-name game include Amarin Corp. (AMR101), Catabasis (CAT), and Omthera Pharmaceuticals (Epanova).

Many drug companies are in Phase II or Phase III trials, said Schutt, “so this isn’t early drug discovery”-meaning that these companies are coming on-stream soon. Depending on FDA, she said, a lot could come onto the market in the next year or two. “That’s really going to change the face of the market,” she added.
What’s further expected to diversify the omega-3 drug market is the global entry of generic omega-3 drugs from companies such as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Par Pharmaceutical, Institut Biochemique, Apotex, Chiesi Farmaceutici, Nissui Group, Endo, and Sandoz. (Information courtesy of Frost & Sullivan.)

There’s powerful potential in a larger omega-3 drug market. Consider, for instance, the difference in dollar value of a drug market versus a supplements market. According to Frost & Sullivan/GOED numbers looking at ingredient demand by application, although demand for EPA/DHA ingredients for drug purposes in 2011 stood at a mere 2% compared to 61% ingredient demand for supplements, the dollar value of the drug market-even at its small portion of the market-was already at 19% compared to 48% for supplements.

Besides healthy profits, what would other effects be of a larger omega-3 drug industry? “It really will change the whole supply situation,” said Schutt, “as [pharma companies] demand higher-concentrate products. This will mean that food, supplement, clinical nutrition, and other industries will be adjusting their supply situations as the balance of raw material availability shifts.”

On the flip side, Schutt noted, one benefit of growing drug demand is that it will boost credibility for the omega-3 category overall. Pronova BioPharma has also said that the strong clinical evidence Omacor/Lovaza cites should help to make consumers more aware of the benefits of high-concentrate omega-3 consumption.

Still, some in the supplements sector may wonder whether omega-3 drugs will steal business from supplements. Not necessarily, Pronova’s Kjaersgaard says. “It is a persistent misconception, which probably comes from the Rx-to-OTC switch concerns that big pharmaceutical companies have. However, the evidence is not there. In fact, it can be a tremendous opportunity for both the Rx and OTC businesses.”

He continues, “In the case of omega-3, there is very little risk of conflict. Supplements are targeted at the ‘prevention’ and ‘maintenance’ segments, and Rx is targeted at the ‘treatment’ and ‘preemptive segments. As such, we believe that these segments are largely complementary and that there is certainly room for both segments to grow.”

Soft Gel Technologies’ Nomura says that so far at least, nutraceuticals companies see pharmaceuticals as a very different market. “Although pharmaceutical-branded fish oils are generally of higher potency, the extra costs involved in manufacturing these types of potencies, along with the extra costs for being a pharmaceutical fish oil, really make them difficult to compete for the same market share. I doubt many nutraceutical companies worry about pharmaceutical competition at this time.”

Still, seeing the increased demand for high concentrates in general, more ingredient suppliers are looking to round out their portfolios with high-concentrate offerings, whether they be for supplements or drugs.

In May, BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany) announced its acquisition of Equateq, a manufacturer of high-concentrate omega-3s based in Scotland. “With the acquisition, BASF extends its portfolio of omega-3 products for the pharmaceutical and dietary supplement industries with a new offering of highly concentrated omega-3 fatty acids,” the company said in its press release.

BASF said Equateq’s proprietary chromatographic separation method offers unique benefit. “Equateq’s technologies will enable us to customize fatty acid concentrates with variable ratios of EPA and DHA at concentration levels of up to 99% purity. This is unique in the market,” said Martin Widmann, senior vice president of Pharma Ingredients & Services, BASF.

Also in the area of high concentrates, this past November Aker BioMarine ASA (Oslo, Norway) reported that subsidiary EPAX AS (Lysaker, Norway) completed a Phase III trial on a pharmaceutical product for very high triglycerides, called AKR 963. The companies stated that EPAX “is strongly positioned in the fast-growing prescription pharmaceutical segment.”

And, at the same time many nutraceutical suppliers are making their way toward high concentrates, this November Pronova said that over the next year it will take its experience from the omega-3 drug market and start supplying high concentrates to the consumer market as well.

“A move into the consumer segment is the logical next step,” the company stated, saying Frost & Sullivan/GOED predicts the high-concentrates consumer market to double in the next five years. Pronova also pointed out that thanks to the large-scale investment it already has in high-concentrate production for its drug operations, “the initial investment necessary to establish a consumer healthcare business is relatively small.”

Kjaersgaard goes on to explain that the drug company expects that its key competitive advantage will be precisely that it brings experience, standards, and clinical substantiation from pharmaceutical-grade products. “We see a tremendous opportunity in driving the high-concentrate premium segment further,” he says. “Pronova comes into this market with a medical heritage from a pharmaceutical culture, and we see this as one of our key competitive advantages. It is our ambition to set a new standard for claims substantiation and product quality that will secure consumer confidence and unlock the ‘Trust Paradox.’”

All this talk about high concentrates aside, there is one company reminding the market to consider the benefits of a whole-food approach to fish oil.

Last fall,  TSI USA Inc. (Missoula, MT) became an exclusive distributor of Hofseth Biocare (Oslo, Norway) OmeGo extra virgin salmon oil, which the company describes as coming from a supply chain that “provides a fresh, pure, and whole-food form of salmon oil.” The firm uses no chemical or physical processing (e.g., pressure cooking, bleaching, or high-temperature fractioning) but rather an enzymatic hydrolysis process that it says “preserves all the natural quality that we find in fish” and produces “a very fresh and natural oil with very low oxidation.”

“This delivers a consumer experience much closer to the ideal of eating fresh, nearly raw salmon,” says Larry Kolb, managing director of the TSI Innovations Group.

He continues, “The whole-oil platform stands in stark contrast to the entrenched categories of various escalating concentrated fish oils, where EPA and DHA levels are raised. In this whole-food platform, the emphasis on single highly unsaturated fatty acids such as DPA, EPA, and DHA is no longer relevant…”

In addition, he says, a whole-food approach may address health conditions beyond hypertriglyceridemia, which is what high concentrates EPA and DHA largely address, focusing on those with extremely high triglycerides or those who have already had a heart attack or stroke. By contrast, Kolb says without going into specifics, OmeGo has demonstrated “reduction of a biomarker of clogged arteries much closer to the physiology of plaque formation.”


Until recently, the algal omega-3 market has largely comprised one flagship ingredient/fatty acid type: life’sDHA by Martek Biosciences (now part of DSM Nutritional Products; Parsippany, NJ). The life’sDHA brand paved the way for the now $300 million algae market.

Algae are a vegetarian omega-3 source that provide fatty acids EPA and DHA directly. By contrast, to get EPA and DHA from vegetarian omega-3 plant sources like flaxseed and chia, the body must first convert ALA, which is the only omega-3 fatty acid in plants. (Algae are also the originating source of EPA and DHA in fish and krill, which obtain these fatty acids by eating algae.) Other benefits attributed to algae are that they are abundant, quick growing, and help the environment with CO2 sequestration.

The burgeoning algae business is changing as new algae suppliers enter the market-among them, Algae Biosciences Inc. (Scottsdale, AZ), Aurora Algae Inc. (Hayward, CA), Lonza (Allendale, NJ), and Source-Omega LLC (Chapel Hill, NC).

“Algal oils [have been] growing at 14%, and as most of you know, that really has been one primary algae product,” said GOED’s Schutt, referring to life’sDHA. “As more algae producers come on the market, we’re going to see that number change substantially.”

Suppliers differ in many ways, including their algal strains, subsequent fatty acid profiles, and growing processes.

Three types of systems are currently used for algae cultivation: open-pond cultivation (autotrophic), fermentation (heterotrophic), and photobioreactors, explains Paul Brunato, director of corporate marketing for Aurora Algae. Each system has its own benefits, say suppliers.

In an open-pond system-versus a closed system-algae are grown in open bodies of water (either shallow ponds or open containers or tanks) in seawater and natural exposure to sunlight. It’s a simple system that requires land for growing but thereafter relies on natural “inputs” instead of expensive equipment, Brunato says.

Additionally, he says, “Aurora’s open-pond cultivation method allows us to grow algae on arid, barren land, in seawater. This means we are not competing with food producers for fertile farmland and fresh water, and our crops are not dependent on volatile commodities, such as sugar, as a feed source. And since we are not using expensive equipment and enclosures, we can scale to thousands of acres, benefiting from significant economies of scale, without incurring incremental expenses from expensive equipment requirements.” Growth in these natural environments, however, can also depend on natural conditions such as the weather.

A variation on an open-pond system, a photobioreactor system also employs natural sunlight but in a closed system instead. Some say that a closed system may provide more control over conditions such as sunlight exposure, temperature, and protection against contamination. Algae Biosciences uses this technique. (The company plans to be in commercial production during the third quarter of this year.)

“AlgaeBio cultures its marine algae in photobioreactors, optimizing the growth process in a continuous, closed-loop system,” describes Mark Edwards, PhD, Algae Biosciences’ vice president of corporate development and marketing. He says the company then uses a supercritical CO2 extraction process, “as opposed to some competitors that employ hexane or other hydrocarbon-based solvents.”

Edwards adds that Algae Biosciences has the exclusive, patented use of “an ancient underground sea” in the Painted Desert in northeast Arizona, near Holbrook. There, the company says, an underground salt dome interacts with brine water from the Coconino Aquifer to produce salt water that is “remarkably pure, free of contaminants, protected from sources of pollution, and the perfect medium for growing marine algae.” It says this area provides 360 days of sunlight a year.

The company says this system has been refined to provide the maximum amount of sunlight to algae cells and “the rare capability of year-round harvest in 24-hour cycles.” In addition, says Edwards, photosynthesis-versus fermentation-imbues the company’s algae with additional health-promoting nutrients-carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, fucoxanthin, and zeaxanthin; vitamins C, D, and E; phytosterols; and chlorophyll-some of which also act as antioxidants and may give the algal oils longer shelf life.

The third type of system, fermentation, is a closed system that has no exposure to sunlight but relies on sugar to ferment and grow algae in fermentation vessels. DSM uses this system for life’sDHA, as does Lonza for its new DHAid algal ingredient line. Both companies stress that this process ensures ingredients are free of sea-borne contaminants like heavy metals.

“DSM grows its microalgae in large, enclosed stainless-steel fermentation tanks that are inspected by FDA. The fermentation process is enclosed and is done outside of the ocean, eliminating the risk of potential ocean-borne contaminants,” explains Chris Lindsay, DSM’s vice president, dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals.

Kevin Owen, PhD, Nafta head of technical marketing and scientific affairs for Lonza, also highlights the lack of contaminants as a plus and adds that Lonza uses no solvents in its process. “Because of the fully controlled fermentation-based production, DHAid is free of the possible contaminants often associated with omega-3s from animal sources.”

Also, like different types of fish, algae strains differ in the ratio of EPA:DHA they produce. Scott Doughman, PhD, chief science officer and CEO of Source-Omega LLC, explains that in general, heterotrophic algae naturally contain a higher DHA percentage by far, and autotrophic algae tend to contain a higher EPA percentage by far. To get more of a mixture of the two fatty acids usually requires some manipulation, he says, through breeding or growth conditions. (Source-Omega uses heterotrophic conditions to produce its DHA algal oil from Schizochytrium algae.)

Because certain algae strains may be higher producers of a certain type of fatty acid, the algae strain that works best for a company will depend on the health conditions it targets. “Each of the main omega-3s...is unique, especially when it comes to health benefits and sources,” says DSM’s Lindsay. “DHA omega-3 is the most abundant omega-3 in the brain and retina, and it is an important structural component of the nerve cells in the brain and eyes and a key component of the heart….EPA plays a role in cardiovascular health and is one of the long-chain omega-3 fats recommended by the American Heart Association for its cardiovascular benefits.”

As the algae market’s founding ingredient, for a long time DSM/Martek’s original life’sDHA ingredient as a result had the market focused on DHA algal ingredients. Lonza’s new DHAid line also focuses on DHA, offering three forms: two oil-based ingredients and one powdered ingredient. “The three forms cover the needs of the industry,” says Owen.

The two oil ingredients are DHAid FNO-350 and DHAid CL-400. Targeting the food industry, DHAid FNO-350 contains 350 mg DHA/1000 mg. (“It is a slightly turbid oil for all food applications in which the oil is not visible in the final product,” says Owen.) DHAid CL-400 is a clear oil offering 400 mg DHA/1000 mg. (“It is a fully transparent oil for soft gels and food applications in which the oil is visible in the final product,” Owen says.) The powder ingredient is called DHAid Dry and is suited for applications in dry blends, offering 10% DHA content (100 mg DHA/1000 mg).

With the DHA algal market fairly established, a newer development for the algae market has been finding algae sources-or re-breeding existing algae strains-that produce higher amounts of EPA. For supplement marketers, the ability to offer customers a vegetarian ingredient that not only directly provides DHA but also now EPA is exciting, allowing companies to capture the health benefits of both fatty acids.

DSM/Martek was the first to market an EPA algae ingredient last year after announcing it had rebred its Schizochytrium strain to produce higher levels of both DHA and EPA. As a result, the company now offers life’sDHA and life’sDHA plus EPA. Already, life’sDHA plus EPA headlines numerous product launches, including Schiff Nutrition’s MegaRed Plant-Omega and Nordic Naturals’ Algae Omega.

Source-Omega’s Doughman also explains that generally, if EPA and DHA fatty acids are both present in an algae strain, increasing the percentage of one type of fatty acid will cause a natural decrease in the percentage of the other. One supplier, Algae Biosciences, however, seems to have found a way around that.

The company will soon come to market with products containing algae-derived EPA and DHA. To produce product high in both EPA and DHA, the company says it grows two different strains of marine algae separately, extracts the EPA and DHA separately, and then blend them in one product.

Going a step further, the company says, its plan is to be able to customize the fatty acid ratio for each customer. “Our initial output will contain equal parts of EPA and DHA, at a blended ratio of 40%-that is 20% representation for each,” says Edwards. “And because we have the capability of producing both EPA and DHA, we will eventually be able to create a custom blend, depending on customers’ wishes-in other words, dial in the EPA:DHA ratio to maximize desired health benefits.”

He says that many are interested in this new “customization” concept. “This capability is extremely rare, and it has led to product inquiries from literally all over the world…In March, [CEO and company cofounder Andrew Ayers] and I attended the Natural Products Expo West trade show,” Edwards says. “Even in that world, the idea that you could grow two different strains of marine algae, extract EPA and DHA separately, and then blend them was a completely radical concept. Some people asked three times-they just couldn’t believe it. The concept of a 50:50 blend was hard for people to comprehend.”

For supplier Aurora Algae, attention is on an algal strain that specializes only in EPA. Not only that, the company says, it can achieve high concentrates. “Different types and strains of algae contain different concentrations of EPA and DHA, and those concentrations can be increased in the refining process,” says Brunato. “Our ‘crude’ algal oil already contains 65% EPA, which is already a high concentration, and lends itself to further concentration to pharma-grade levels of up to 99% EPA.”

Brunato adds that just like in the fish oil industry, he expects algae suppliers will increasingly focus on higher-concentration ingredients. “That trend is definitely something the algae industry will follow, unless the source is very difficult to concentrate-which is not the case for our company.”

He also expects there to be room in the algae market for different suppliers. “Each species of algae is unique in that it provides different ratios of EPA and DHA. Just as there is room for salmon oil, tuna oil, and other types of fish oil, there will also be room for multiple species of algae with different omega-3 profiles.”

Source-Omega’s Doughman highly encourages more independent algal research as well. “There’s a need for basic, independent research for further use of algae for animal feed and nutrition,” he says.


Presently, the krill oil market may be a smaller fraction of the omega-3 supply market compared to longer-standing sources. But no other ingredient is growing more quickly.

According to Frost & Sullivan/GOED, the krill ingredients market saw an astounding 41.5% growth last year. It seems that consumers like what they are hearing about the benefits of krill.

Among those benefits, krill marketers say, is a higher bioavailability related to the fact that krill’s EPA and DHA fatty acids are bound primarily to phospholipids, as compared to the DHA/EPA fatty acids in fish and algae that are primarily bound to triglycerides. Higher bioavailability means that consumers also get the benefit of taking smaller capsules. Other benefits suppliers tout for krill are no “fishy burp” and the presence of beneficial nutrients like phosphatidylcholine and astaxanthin.

In March, Aker BioMarine Antarctic US (Oslo, Norway), supplier of the Superba krill oil brand, announced the results of a survey it conducted together with Discovery Research Group that found that “nearly four out of ten consumers who want to take an omega-3 supplement are looking for an alternative to fish oil.”

“Clearly there is a market for consumers who want omega-3 supplements to increase these essential fatty acids in the diet but do not want fish oil,” said Eric Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing for Aker BioMarine Antarctic US, in the announcement.

As the market grows, so will research. “Obviously the body of evidence behind krill oil is limited in size compared to [that of] omega-3 fish oil, which has been researched since the early 1970s,” says Elzaphan Hotam, CEO of Enzymotec USA (Morristown, NJ), which produces the K-Real krill oil brand.

Krill oil suppliers are doing their part to step up research on the omega-3 benefits of krill specifically. One area of opportunity is establishing exactly how the phospholipid form is a natural absorption enhancer. “The major claim is that omega-3–bound phospholipids are indeed more bioavailable than triglycerides or ethyl ester omegas,” says Hotam. “Having said that, the mechanism of action is not clarified. The way it is being observed is through blood-plasma levels of EPA/DHA.”

Last year, Aker BioMarine made more headway on this issue, reporting the results of a study published in Lipids that the company helped sponsor which studied the bioefficiency of krill oil versus fish oil. According to researchers, both the krill oil and fish oil groups maintained similar levels of each omega-3 fatty acid EPA and DHA, even if the dosage taken of EPA and DHA from krill oil was only 63% that of fish oil.

Aker BioMarine has also been active in advancing condition-specific krill research. In the past two years, the company has reported positive results for krill oil (and in some cases over fish oil) in preclinical and mouse studies on various conditions: glucose and cholesterol metabolism, heart attack, inflammation in ulcerative colitis, and fat metabolism. Further studies are being planned for joint health and inflammation.

Also, take it from a capsules specialist: consumers want to avoid fishy smells as much as fishy burps, says Jeff Taylor, manager of product development, Capsugel Liquids Group, Americas Region (Greenwood, SC).

Taylor says that when the company combined its Licaps OceanCaps hard capsules-made from fish gelatin-with krill oil, consumers far preferred it over other options, even softgels: “In a sniff test conducted with krill oils at the recent SupplySide MarketPlace show, consumers preferred the krill oil supplement in Licaps in every case over the other options.”

“Softgels are terrific delivery forms for marine ingredients, which can be expensive,” he goes on to explain. “But we feel Licaps OceanCaps are a superior delivery form for omega-3s because they can offer an all-marine product that provides better odor protection...” As hard gelatin capsules, he says, Licaps have lower moisture content and ensure a secure seal with LEMS technology (Liquid Encapsulation Microspray Sealing). Additionally, filling the capsules with nitrogen during manufacturing to eliminate oxygen helps eliminate odor.

There are a few tricks when encapsulating krill oil, he adds. “With 40% more phospholipids, krill oil is the thicker oil. The challenge is to reduce the viscosity in order to fill the capsule with the oil without applying heat. We formulated around krill oil so we don’t have to reduce viscosity.”

Licaps’ barrier protection against oxidation also makes it a better option for high-concentrate omega-3s products in general. “The higher the concentration of omega-3, the more physically unstable it becomes, making it more prone to degradation, especially oxidation,” says Taylor.


Chia seed and flaxseed are two of the most popular sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Oils from these seeds are rich in ALA, the only omega-3 fatty acid found in plants.

How do chia and flax compare as ALA sources?

Some say that flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) is highest in ALA. Marilyn Stieve, business development manager for Glanbia Nutritionals (Fitchburg, WI), says, “Glanbia flaxseed on average contains 23% ALA omega-3; chia contains on average 18%.” She adds that studies conducted by North Dakota State University have shown flaxseed grown in Canada especially contains as much as 10% more ALA omega-3 compared to other growing regions.

Still others say that when compared as oils, chia seed oil (Savia hispanica) is actually higher in ALA than flaxseed oil. “Although flax is highest in omega-3 compared to chia, chia oil has a higher percentage of ALA when compared to flax oil, making chia a great source of vegetarian omega-3 fatty acids that is absorbed by the body-in both the ground and whole form,” says Alison Raban, food technologist for BI Nutraceuticals (Long Beach, CA). “The same can’t be said of flax.”

She further explains, “When comparing flax seeds and chia seeds, flax has a higher fat content overall. So when comparing flax and chia for omega-3 ALA (a type of fat), flax will come out higher. But if you compare flax oil to chia oil, chia has a higher percentage of omega-3/ALA. Since the oil is extracted from the whole material, the difference in oil level between flax and chia is removed from the equation so the benefit to flax is lost.”

Proprietary Nutritionals Inc. (Kearny, NJ), which supplies Benexia brand chia seed, says that 25 g of Benexia chia seed offers 5.2 g of ALA omega-3. “Of all omega-3 fatty acid sources, chia has the larger concentration of ALA fatty acid known to date: 63.2%,” the company says.

Valensa (Eustis, FL) calls its Chia Gold chia seed oil highest in omega-3 content (560 mg/g) compared to other plant sources, including perilla seed extract (535 mg/g) and flaxseed oil (520 mg/g). And, the company says, another advantage of its chia seed oil compared to flaxseed oil is that while flaxseed oil can go rancid quickly, Chia Gold is highly stable because it contains antioxidants such as caffeic acid and tocopherols, as well as the company’s O2B Peroxidation Blocker system.

In addition to chia and flax, which are both excellent omega-3 sources, other plant-based sources of omega fatty acids are also gaining popularity.

ConnOils (Big Bend, WI), a specialist in omega-3, -6, and -9 ingredients derived from plants, says that the ingredients that have been most in demand are flaxseed oil, cranberry seed oil, echium oil (Echium plantagineum), hempseed oil (Cannabis sativa), and perilla seed oil (Perilla frutescens).

Mary Ann Siciliano, national sales manager for Arista Industries Inc. (Wilton, CT), whose portfolio includes both plant- and marine-based omega-3s, adds, “Although flaxseed oil still has the highest demand as far as non-marine omega-3s, other omega-3 oils that Arista offers are gaining popularity.” She says these include chia seed oil, perilla seed oil, camelina oil (Camelina sativa), sea buckthorn oil, and Sacha Inchi oil (discussed more ahead).

Valensa’s latest addition to its omega-3 plant portfolio is a perilla seed extract. According to the company, perilla seed extract has the highest ratio of omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids of any known seed oil-“an astounding 6:1”-and typically 50-60% ALA content. As such, the company says, the ingredient may help consumers lower their omega-6:omega-3 ratio and reduce the inflammation risks associated with the typical omega-6–rich Western diet.

For added omega-3 variety, NP Nutra (Rancho Dominguez, CA) last year introduced SachaOmega oil, a certified-organic, cold-pressed oil containing omega-3s, -6s, and -9s and a 1.4:1 ratio of omega-3:omega-6.

Nichole De Block, marketing director for Nutraceuticals International Group (Paramus, NJ), further describes Sacha Inchi, which her company also supplies. “Sacha Inchi, also known as Plukenetia volubilis, is a perennial plant with somewhat hairy leaves in the Euphobiaceae family….The seeds of Inchi have a high protein and oil content.” Besides being a potent source of omega-3, she adds, the seeds are also rich in nutrients like iodine and vitamins A and E.

A supplements brand called Vega last year launched a Sacha Inchi snack called SaviSeed. “At 7000 mg/serving, SaviSeed offers almost three times the omega-3s as walnuts,” the company said.

As an omega-3 fatty acid, ALA on its own provides numerous health benefits, such as for cardiovascular health. In the body, ALA also, to an extent, converts to fellow omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. But for those truly seeking a strong EPA/DHA source, some say that the conversion of ALA to EPA/DHA happens too inefficiently (especially for DHA) for ALA to be considered a viable source of EPA/DHA.

Rudi E. Moerck, PhD, Valensa’s president and CEO, however, mentions, “Solid studies have shown excellent conversion of ALA from seed oil to EPA and DPA, the immediate precursor to DHA. Clearly, then, this explains why people who have not been exposed to fatty fish containing EPA and DHA have fully functional immune systems, balanced innate and adaptive immune systems, functional brains, nerve systems, and eyes-despite the lack of food-based EPA and DHA where DHA and EPA play major roles at the cellular membrane level.”

Glanbia Nutritionals’ Stieve adds, “An intake of 2 tbsp of milled flax provides 3.6 g of ALA, an amount that the body may convert to upwards of 180 to 300 mg of EPA, thus providing the benefits of both omega-3 fatty acids.” She says that this conversion from ALA is still beneficial, considering that the average person consumes roughly only 100 mg/day of EPA/DHA, while suggested intake of these fatty acids looks more like 250 to 500 mg/day.

Stieve further points to studies that she says showed that the conversion rate of ALA to DHA/EPA can be as high as 21% in young women (Burdge and Wootton, 2002). “There have also been some recent publications that show in non-fish-eating diets that the conversion rate is very high as well (EPIC-Norfolk Study, 2011),” she says.

Still, for consumers wishing they could get EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids directly from a plant source, BASF Plant Science (Limburgerhof, Germany) and Cargill (Minneapolis) announced a new project for the vegetable oils/shortenings market. In November, the two companies said they will co-develop a “next generation” canola oil containing EPA and DHA.

BASF says it will invest $208 million to genetically enhance EPA and DHA levels in canola seed oil. “BASF will provide the genetic technology, while Cargill is responsible for developing the oil systems (shortenings, etc.) for commercial use,” explains Willie Loh, Cargill’s vice president of marketing, specialty canola oil. “The resulting oil/oil system will enable our customers to make good and excellent source claims for EPA/DHA omega-3.” This canola oil with EPA and DHA would be an industry first, he explains.

Cargill is already a provider of other healthy, ALA-focused options for the vegetable oils market. Launched last year, the company’s Clear Valley Omega-3 Oil contains 30% ALA omega-3 and is said to be the only high-stability ALA omega-3 oil on the market. “Vegetable oils do not contain any EPA or DHA; only ALA,” Loh explains. “However, ALA in standard flax, canola, and soybean oils make them unstable to frying and/or ambient temperature storage. Thus, we launched Clear Valley (ALA) Omega-3 Oil to provide the industry with high (ALA) omega-3 for incorporation in shelf-stable foods.”

The Clear Valley line also includes Clear Valley 65 frying oils and Clear Valley 80, which is a highly stable oil rich in oleic acid. Oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid, is the main fatty acid found in olive oil and other healthier monounsaturated fats. High-oleic canola oil is designed to contain more oleic acid and less polyunsaturated fats than regular canola oil, serving as a healthier replacement. This fat profile also makes high-oleic canola oil more stable, allowing for greater heat tolerance and longer shelf life.

While high-oleic canola oils have been on the market for some time, newer to market are high-oleic soybean oils. Cargill says that while it does expect to face some competition down the road from high-oleic soybean oil (Archer Daniels Midland and Pioneer Hi-Bred have one such oil in the works), Cargill still believes there is room in the market for all types, as each type of oil offers its own set of benefits.

“From a market perspective, high-oleic soybean oil will enter the market to compete with high-oleic canola, high-oleic sunflower, and high-oleic safflower oils,” says Loh. However, he adds, “Clear Valley 80 will have much higher levels of oleic acid and therefore offer longer product shelf life for processed foods. And all the high-oleic canola oils will have lower levels of saturated fat.”

Other Omegas and Sources

Other emerging sources of omega fatty acids, both plant and marine, will continue to expand this ever-broadening market. Below are a few omega fatty acids/sources gaining interest.

Ahiflower oil is a plant-based branded ingredient that debuted this March from supplier Nature’s Crops Specialty Oils/Technology Crops International (Winston-Salem, NC). The company calls Ahiflower oil a good source of stearidonic acid (SDA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in soybeans, hemp, and blackcurrant oil.

Ahiflower’s oil is derived from Buglossoides arvensis seed. “This is the first time Buglossoides arvensis oil will be available for commercial use,” says Steve Howatt, vice president of agronomy and business development for Technology Crops International (TCI). He goes on to explain that “TCI began with the wild plant species and spent many years improving its oil profile using natural plant breeding techniques. Now the crop contains high levels of oil, which also contains increased concentrations of SDA.”

Specifically, Howatt says, Ahiflower oil contains up to 20% SDA, as well as over 35% ALA, for a total concentration of over 55% omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains 5% GLA. “Ahiflower will provide the highest concentration source of natural, plant-derived SDA available from a non-GMO source,” he states. The company plans to commence commercial production later this year.

Howatt states that SDA, compared to plant-derived omega-3 fatty acid ALA, is more efficiently converted in the body, especially when it comes to EPA. He explains that the poor conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is generally attributed to a key enzyme called delta-6-desaturase, or D6d. “The conversion of ALA potentially can be blocked at the D6d stage, as this enzyme can be inactivated or down-regulated by a number of factors,” he says. Such factors include diet (such as high intakes of saturated fat, trans fatty acids, carbohydrates, or alcohol), zinc deficiency, disease conditions, or aging.

By contrast, says Howatt, “SDA is an intermediate between ALA and EPA/DHA and does not require the D6d enzyme for metabolism into EPA. As a result, SDA is converted to EPA much more efficiently than ALA; thus, lower quantities are required in the diet.” He estimates that 1 tsp (5 ml) of Ahiflower oil contains approximately 840 mg SDA and 1800 mg ALA-which converts to approximately 300 mg EPA based on 30% conversion for SDA to EPA and 3% ALA to EPA. By comparison, 1 tsp of flaxseed oil contains 2600 mg ALA, which converts to 80 mg EPA.

“Thus,” he says, “Ahiflower oil would conservatively provide approximately four times as much ‘EPA equivalent’ as a similar amount of flaxseed oil.”

On the marine front, a newer source of omega-3 fatty acids-DHA in particular-is squid. “Squid, or calamari, as it is referred to in restaurants, is an excellent and abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, delivering 30% omega-3 in non-concentrated natural oil,” says Todd Parker, president of Pharma Marine USA LLC (Sovik, Norway), which has manufactured its Calamarine calamari concentrates line since 2008. “The fatty acid profile is similar to tuna and salmon in that the DHA levels are higher than the EPA levels.”

Parker says that squid is a beneficial omega-3 source because “Calamarine is made from human food-grade raw material. It is literally the byproduct of food intended for human consumption. Therefore, the raw material is very fresh and is processed in a European Union food-grade certified facility.”

Supplements marketer Standard Process chose squid as the source for its Calamari Omega-3 Liquid supplement, which launched in 2010. “For our product line, we were particularly interested in an oil naturally rich in omega-3s (i.e., one that does not need to be concentrated),” explains Karren Jeske, the brand’s communications manager. “Calamari oil is on par or better than many other marine sources of omega-3s and has a naturally higher ratio of DHA:EPA (2:1) than other marine sources.”

Jeske adds that calamari provided a clean flavor profile. “The oil from our supplier meets or exceeds standards set by GOED. It’s made from the parts of food-grade calamari that aren’t consumed by humans, and has a less ‘fishy’ taste and odor than other marine oils.”

Suppliers and marketers are also calling attention to a lesser-discussed family of omega fatty acids: omega-7 fatty acids. The omega-7 fatty acid palmitoleic acid, in particular, may show promise for cardiovascular/cholesterol health.

Anderson Global Group (AGG; Irvine, CA) is now promoting Provinal, an omega-7 palmitoleic acid ingredient developed by Tersus Pharmaceuticals LLC that AGG is exclusively distributing. AGG calls Provinal “The Next Omega.”

Sourced from pelagic wild anchovy, Provinal is said to be concentrated to up to 50% palmitoleic acid.

“There are many human studies on palmitoleic acid,” says Christine Beckner, premium ingredient specialist for AGG. She says that AGG is currently running a human study on Provinal, the results of which will be announced later this year. The company also points to a 2011 cardiovascular mouse study done by Tersus Pharmaceuticals that found palmitoleic acid significantly boosted HDL cholesterol levels and reduced cholesterol plaque buildup.

Moreover, the company says, Provinal’s production removes almost all presence of palmitic acid. What is palmitic acid? Les Proctor, product manager for dietary supplements brand Basic Organics, explains that while palmitoleic acid is a beneficial monounsaturated fatty acid, palmitic acid, by contrast, is a “bad” fatty acid found in foods especially high in saturated fat and in the food supply in things like palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, and beef. Palmitic acid has been linked to negative health effects such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, the elements of metabolic syndrome. According to the World Health Organization, evidence is “convincing” that consumption of palmitic acid increases risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Compared to Provinal, other ingredients that contain palmitoleic acid may also contain higher levels of palmitic acid, says AGG’s Beckner. “Other omega-7 products such as sea buckthorn oil and some other popular dietary supplements such as krill oil generally have very high levels of palmitic acid (>30%), which isn’t a good thing. Provinal contains all of what you want and none of what you don’t.” Plus, she says, Provinal provides other beneficial fatty acids such as hexadecatetraenoic acid, oleic acid, and SDA.

Basic Organics’ Proctor says that a monosaturated fatty acid like palmitoleic acid can help “neutralize” the negative effects of a saturated fatty acid like palmitic acid. “It increases insulin sensitivity and reduces food cravings by blocking palmitic acid from turning off the [satiety] ‘switch’ in your body,” he adds.

So, will consumers catch on to palmitoleic acid? AGG thinks so. “Consumers know the proven benefits associated with the omega oils, particularly omega-3,” says Beckner. “Identifying omega-7 for its cardiovascular benefit sets it apart as being effective against a growing health problem, and I think it will attract people seeking help with that specific condition.”

Proctor’s brand, Basic Organics, is helping to drive awareness, too. Earlier this year, the company launched a product called Cardia 7, featuring Provinal. The company promotes the product to help raise HDL cholesterol, lower LDL cholesterol, and lower triglycerides. It also highlights Cardia 7 as an alternative to niacin, a nutrient also used to reduce cholesterol levels. Unlike niacin, however, the company says that palmitoleic acid does not cause the side effect of “flushing,” making Cardia 7 “a great ‘no flush’ alternative to niacin.”

Basic Organics believes Cardia 7 will help forge new territory. Said company president Scott Johnson, “This is not just another new product launch. This is potentially an entirely new category.”

Room for Everyone

So, what’s the bottom line of this story? Simply, that the omega fatty acids industry is a great business to be in. On the omega-3 EPA/DHA market specifically, GOED’s Schutt said, “There really isn’t any category in the omega-3 industry that is not growing. There’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of positive activity, there’s a lot of science behind everything, and it really is a good place to have your business.”

Aurora Algae’s Brunato sums it up well: “There is plenty of room for a variety of sources, applications, and concentrations, and this variety will ultimately benefit the consumer by providing choices of source, profile, and concentration to meet individual preferences and health needs.”


Extra! Pronova BioPharma, Marketer of Omega-3 Drug Lovaza/Omacor, on Future Growth of the Omega-3 Pharmaceutical Market

* Interview with Claus Kjaersgaard, vice president of consumer healthcare

Can you comment on how the high-concentrate omega-3 market is growing? Will this be the next big growth market for omega-3s and fish oil in particular?
The high-concentrate omega-3 market is definitely growing. Overall, the omega-3 market is forecast to see double-digit annual growth rates for each of the next five years-including the single-strength (30%) segment.*

Growth in the single-strength market is fueled by increased penetration of omega-3 in emerging markets, and it seems that single strength is the entry point into the category for consumers. The tendency, however, is that once consumers become more “omega-3 savvy,” they trade up to higher concentrates-double and triple strength-for greater benefits.

An example is the U.S. market. Our analysis suggests that in 2002, 75% of omega-3 consumption was in single strength (30 to 50%) format, and only 2% in triple strength. In 2012, we expect that only a quarter of the U.S. market will be single strength, and more than 40% will be triple strength. So as markets around the world mature, we expect to see similar developments.

* Single, double, and triple strength is terminology that originates from the United States. The logic is as follows: “Single strength” refers to the EPA+DHA concentration, which in single strength will be 300 mg/g (18 mg EPA and 12 mg DHA). “Double strength” refers to a concentration of 600 mg/g; this can come in different variations-most straightforward would be 36 mg EPA and 24 mg DHA. “Triple strength” is not triple concentration, but a bigger capsule containing 900 mg per tablet at 60% concentration. It is relatively easy to get to 600 mg/g concentration, but it is far more complicated to go further with traditionally sized capsules, so this was accomplished by enlarging the size of the tablet.

In short, single strength is 300 mg/tablet (30% concentration), double strength is 600 mg/tablet (60% concentration), and triple strength is 900 mg/tablet (60% concentration).


Why do you think consumers are interested in these higher doses?
The reason why consumers are interested in higher concentrates-not doses-is a very good question. An obvious benefit is convenience. As concentrations increase, the number and size of capsules decrease and therefore become more convenient to consume.

Secondly, there’s an issue of cost per serving versus cost per pack. Again, as consumers start gaining experience with the category, they realize that although the price of a single strength pack is lower than a pack of double strength, once you calculate the cost per daily dose, then the difference is less of an issue, thus, it is more convenient to swallow fewer and smaller capsules.


What percentages of DHA/EPA are being seen in higher-concentrate products?
We don’t see any particular changes in the DHA/EPA ratio in the higher-concentrate products. The tendency is the same-you see products targeted for “general health protection” and then product targeted at special indications where the DHA/EPA ratio is skewed towards either high DHA [Editor’s note: for cognitive benefits, for instance] or high EPA [Editor’s note: for cardiovascular health, for instance], depending on the indication.


Unlike other ingredient suppliers who may have started off serving the nutraceuticals market and are now looking to serve the higher-concentrates market as well, Pronova by contrast is coming from the drug market and is now targeting “the consumer healthcare market.” Does the “consumer healthcare market” mean dietary supplements specifically? Or what other types of products are the company looking at?
We see a big opportunity for Pronova in the consumer healthcare segment-not just to be in it, but to become a driving force in the development of the high-concentrate, high-quality segment. There are three major reasons for this:

1)   “The Trust Paradox”: We see an interesting paradox in the omega-3 market. On one hand, omega-3 is highly researched, with more than 2100 clinical studies published and a vast number of articles on the subject. On the other hand, the category arguably still has some issues around trust-because of the marketing around the products and the way the often contradicting clinical documentation is presented-leading to concerns among consumers about what and whom to trust. Pronova comes into this market with a medical heritage from a pharmaceutical culture, and we see this as one of our key competitive advantages. It is our ambition to set a new standard for claims substantiation and product quality that will secure consumer confidence and unlock the “Trust Paradox.”

2)   Trading up consumers to more stringent consumer demands. As mentioned before, we see a tremendous opportunity in driving the high-concentrate premium segment further. Once a consumer has entered the category, over time they tend to become more demanding as to the standards of the products they consume, and Pronova is uniquely positioned to drive that development. The way we see it, the omega-3 category is nowhere near reaching its potential. In fact, we believe that we are just at the “end of the beginning.” But in order to unlock that potential, we need to take a different approach to the category. In short, we need to approach the omega-3 category in terms of consumer-based innovation-a key focus of ours, and an area in which Pronova has invested heavily over the past five years.

3)   Looking at a better integration of the value chain to better meet customer needs. Pronova’s business model is to work through partnerships, and with our pharma business we have demonstrated the success of this model. In contrast, it appears to us that the consumer healthcare omega-3 value chain is more disjointed and as a result consumers may not be getting the best product, making it difficult for them to navigate the category and to make the right selection because products look more or less the same. We believe that there is an opportunity to rethink the value chain in the consumer segment-in particular, how consumers understand and perceive value. What is striking for this category is the absence of major global brands and major global marketing organizations/companies.


Will the omega-3 nutraceuticals and drug markets take business away from each other? Is there room for both segments to grow?
It is a persistent misconception, which probably comes from the Rx-to-OTC switch concerns that big pharmaceutical companies have. However, the evidence is not there. In fact, it can be a tremendous opportunity for both the Rx and OTC businesses.

In the case of omega-3, there is very little risk of conflict. Supplements are targeted at the “prevention” and “maintenance” segments, and Rx is targeted at the “treatment” and “preemptive” segments. As such, we believe that these segments are largely complementary, and that there is certainly room for both segments to grow.


We’ve also heard about the growing potential for generic versions of omega-3 drugs. Are these generic versions on the market yet? Moreover, what differentiates a fish oil formulation for a dietary supplement, a drug, and a generic drug?
As you know, branded pharmaceutical products and their generics are basically the same in terms of composition and formulation.

Pharmaceutical products have to be much more rigorously tested and scientifically documented than a dietary supplement. Another difference is that omega-3 dietary supplements tend to have lower omega-3 concentrations than pharmaceutical omega-3s.


Do you think that we will also see opportunities for pharma products based on other omega-3 sources (e.g., algae, krill, plants)?
It all depends on whether it makes sense from a consumer benefit point of view. If the use of algae, krill, or plants can produce superior clinical documentation, then it is relevant. To date, we do not believe that the evidence supports that.

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