The market for omega-3 food, beverage and supplements in the US is over $5 billion with saturation point nowhere in sight, but how does the market break down, what are the up-and-coming sources, and where will we go in future?
In the first part of our special series on omega-3, NutraIngredients looks at the state of the omega-3 market, recently valued at almost $8 billion (€5.57 billion) by Packaged Facts.
According to the new report, the market grew 17% from 2009 and such growth is predicted to continue, said the market researcher.
The US dominates with sales of $4bn (€2.78bn) in foods and drinks compared to $1.3bn (€900m) for dietary supplements, with much of the food and beverage figure accounted for by omega-3 fortified infant foods and formulas.
The US food and beverage sector is expected to grow 14.4% annually between 2006 and 2014, compared to 18% growth in the US supplements sector.
Saturation a long way off
Impressive growth is predicted to continue, said Packaged Facts. This was supported by Adam Ismail, executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).
Speaking to NutraIngredients-USA, Ismail said: “We do agree that we are only at the beginning of this market. There is still too much of the world's population with insufficient intakes, and too much supportive science to deny that they are necessary nutrients.
“Growth in developed countries has shown that EPA and DHA can be accessible to almost everyone, so there is no reason that we cannot get to the point where almost everyone in the world is getting sufficient intakes through their diet.”
Ismail noted that the fastest growing markets are to be found in Asia, and they are growing almost three times as fast as North American and Western European markets.
“It is also the market where the most rapid functional food development is taking place...despite low per capita incomes,” he added.
The main omega-3 fatty acids present on the market consist of the marine sourced eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5 n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6 n-3) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3 n-3) from plants like flax.
The supply of EPA and DHA is dominated by the fish oil players. According to GOED, the market is led by companies such as Nissui, Pronova, Ocean Nutrition Canada, Epax, Denomega, Croda, Cognis (BASF), and Omega Protein.
Fish oil represented about 80% of the 2010 global market of omega-3 for human consumption, said Packaged Facts, with 75% of this used in dietary supplements.
Alternate sources are making inroads into the market, however, with krill oil increasingly grabbing headlines. The main krill oil suppliers include Neptune Technologies and Bioresources, Aker BioMarine, and Enzymotec.
Packaged Facts is predicting that krill “will be an important player in coming years within the supplements segment as more scientific studies support the health boosting properties of krill”.
This is not to say that krill is limited to supplements, Enzymotec, Aker and Neptune offering ingredients with GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status for use in food and beverages.
Algae-sourced omega-3s are also blooming, with the market having seen a number of new entrants in recent months. Previously dominated by Martek (now DSM Nutritionals), suppliers now offering algae-derived omega-3s include Aurora Algae (EPA only), Avesthagen (DHA only), and Algae Biosciences Corp . (EPA and DHA).
GOED’s Adam Ismail said that growth of these new sources is actually on top of fish oil sales still.
“However, aside from krill oils, not many of them have made it to market yet,” said Ismail.
“It remains to be seen what will happen when they do get launched, but I suspect they will continue to be on top of fish oil sales instead of cannibalizing them because there are enough new consumers coming into the omega-3 market worldwide that all sources are needed to supply the demand.”
Another marine source of the ingredient is the New Zealand green lipped mussel, ranked among the top 'eco-friendly seafoods' according to the US environmental agency Blue Ocean Institute's list. The most well-known of these is Lyprinol marketed by Pharmalink.
Think plant sourced omega-3 and the thought is ALA. Much attention has been paid to the conversion of ALA to the longer chain EPA, with many stating that this conversion is very small. Indeed, between 8 and 20 per cent of ALA is reportedly converted to EPA in humans, and between 0.5 and 9 per cent of ALA is converted to DHA.
In addition, the gender plays an important role with women of reproductive age reportedly converting ALA to EPA at a 2.5-fold greater rate than healthy men.
According to Packaged Facts: “The rapid growth in ALA products speaks to consumer receptivity to non-marine sourced omega-3s that can be easily incorporated into their daily meal and snack times.
“For the foreseeable future, nonetheless, DHA/EPA introductions should continue to outnumber ALA introductions, due to the far more extensive documentation of benefits of potential benefits of DHA omega-3s in relation to health concerns.”
In recent years the race has been on find a way to source EPA and DHA directly from plants for human use. Solae and Monsanto teamed up in 2007 to commercialise the latter's soybean variety developed specially to be rich in SDA. The rate of conversion of SDA to EPA is understood to be comparatively efficient - between 5.5:1 and 6:1.
Genetic engineering of plants is also being pursued by DuPont and BASF.