Ongoing Opportunities for Omega-3

Omega-3 drinks, anyone?

Although it has been known for many years that omega-3 fatty acids are essential to normal growth and health, awareness of their potential benefits has increased dramatically in recent years. Purported health benefits now span a wide range, including cardiovascular, circulatory, nervous system, joint, cognitive, and eye health. This has led to increased interest in maintaining omega-3 fatty acid levels in the diet, and the food industry has used this to increasingly market certain products, such as oily fish, as being naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids. Still other products are being reformulated to raise their omega-3 fatty acid content in order to be marketed on this health platform.

The number of new food and drink products marketed as containing omega-3 fatty acids has risen strongly in recent years, and accounted for over 1% of total food and drink launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in 2011. This percentage rises to 2% in North America specifically, where interest appears to be highest and where qualified claims about reduced risks of heart disease are allowed on-pack and in advertising material.

Fish and Fish Products

Globally, the leading category in terms of marketing on an omega-3 content was fish and fish products, accounting for over a quarter of launches recorded-ahead of pet foods with 17%, baby foods with 10%, and dairy products (primarily milk drinks) and yellow fats with 9%.

In the fish market, over 17% of global launches in 2011 were marketed on an omega-3 platform. It is the canned-food sector that historically dominates, reflecting the high levels of oily fish in the sector, particularly tuna, salmon, and sardines. Many producers now label their products as a good source of omega-3, although not always linking that to heart health or indeed any specific health benefit. In the United States, both the major canned-tuna companies, StarKist and Bumble Bee, have heart-shaped logos on much of their product range, stating that they are a good source of omega-3s.

More recently, interest has moved into the frozen and chilled prepared-fish markets, with European companies in particular launching Alaskan pollock products marketed as high in omega-3 or even using omega-3 in their product name. In the United Kingdom, both the leading frozen-fish-finger brands, Birds Eye and Young’s, have an omega-3 fish fingers product in their ranges, and the Birds Eye variant is now the number-three frozen-fish brand in the UK.

Oils

Although much smaller in terms of overall launches, reflecting intrinsically fewer innovation opportunities, the yellow fats market has also seen ongoing activity, with nearly 9% of global launches in 2011 marketed as containing omega-3 fatty acids.

The use of omega-3 fatty acids to control cholesterol levels and help maintain heart health has become a feature of the market, particularly in Europe, and this has led to the creation of a two-tier market in some countries, with “post-condition” products containing plant sterols on the one hand, and “preventative” products with omega-3s on the other.

Indeed, some of the omega-3 products are now positioned more on a general health platform, often for all the family.

Fortified Milk

The omega-3 fortified-milks market has also seen ongoing activity, with Innova Market Insights recording 2011 launches by Stonyfield Farm in the United States and retailer Marks & Spencer in the UK. However, activity in most countries, with the notable exception of Spain, has remained very fragmented.

Spain has an omega-3 fortified-milks sector that has been developing for a number of years and actually makes up the majority of the heart-health milks sector, which accounted for nearly 6% of total milk sales through Spanish food channels in 2011, with brands such as Cardiosaludables or Corazon.

The market was pioneered and is still led by Puleva, now part of Lactalis, in the late 1990s. The sector has since expanded to encompass a wide range of branded and own-label products, with most major dairy companies having at least one omega-3 line in their portfolio.

Fortified Soft Drinks

Back in the United States, there has been considerable new product activity in omega-3-fortified soft drinks, with the country accounting for nearly half of the global total recorded in 2011.

Launches spanned a range of drink types, including flavored water such as Nature’s Omega Omega-3 Water range in four fruit flavors, all fortified with omega-3 fatty acids; fruit drinks with organic chia seeds by Mamma Chia, in four blended fruit flavors; smoothies such as Odwalla’s Superfood Premium Berries GoMega blend; and even tea drinks, with GoIn Tea from Renewal Laboratories, which claimed to be the first U.S. bottled tea drink with added omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil.

Bright Future

Various estimates have been made of the size of the market for omega-3–fortified foods, but with some products having naturally high levels and some using added ingredients, it is a very difficult one to sort out. Perhaps more useful is research that has shown rising levels of interest and awareness among consumers, and this paired with the Innova Market Insights launch information indicates ongoing activity and apparent potential for development across a whole range of products and applications.