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Squid gains traction in omega-3 market

By Elaine Watson , 03-Nov-2011
Last updated on 03-Nov-2011 at 21:00 GMT

The Norwegian entrepreneurs behind Pharma Marine - a new business set up to commercialize long chain omega-3s from the trimmings of food-grade calamari - have struck deals with a clutch of leading players in the US supplements industry just two years after launch.

While calamari (squid) was not as well-known as microalgae or krill as an alternative source of long chain omega-3s to fish, it was gradually gaining traction as supplement makers sought to differentiate themselves in an increasingly commoditized market, co-founder Leif Kjetil Gjendemsjø told NutraIngredients-USA.com.

“Most marine omega-3 products are made from higher EPA anchovies and sardines. But Calamarine [Pharma Marine’s branded calamari oil] is significantly higher in DHA than EPA [ratio of 2:1]. It’s similar to tuna oil, but more sustainable.

“A lot of companies don’t want to use tuna oil anymore. The fisheries are over-exploited, whereas squid is still not so expensive and there is a lot of it. The by-product often just gets thrown away.”

The greenest omega-3 plant on the planet?

He added: “Calamarine is the byproduct of food produced for human consumption, it is very abundant, and is harvested in a manner that does not affect other marine populations or the marine environment.”

Certified as sustainable by Friend of the Sea, calamari was a staple food worldwide caught using jigging, where boats used bright lights at night to attract large schools to the surface and then used un-baited hooks just below the surface, delivering “virtually zero by-catch”, he said.

A growing number of firms including Amway, Irwin Naturals, Purity Products, Metagenics and Standard Process now marketed soft gels and liquid supplements in the US containing Calamarine, he said.

“The US is the biggest supplement market in the world, so is critical to our plans.

“As far as we know we are the only company manufacturing DHA concentrates from squid; in both ethyl ester and triglyceride form”, claimed Gjendemsjø, an omega-3 industry veteran (Epax, Napro Pharma) who set up Pharma Marine with former colleague Asgeir Sæbø in 2007.

The two started processing products in May 2009 from a plant in the west coast of Norway Gjendemsjø describes as ”probably the greenest omega-3 plant on the planet”.

You have to utilize the whole animal/plant

While consumers most readily associated omega-3s with fish, they had proved receptive to omega-3s from a variety of marine sources including krill and microalgae, and calamari was well-known to restaurant goers, he said.

“It’s also got some very interesting bioactives as well as EPA/DHA – there are phospholipids, astaxanthin and protein so we are looking at those as well.

“Innovation in our industry is very positive, especially innovation that expands the sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Humans need omega-3 to maintain optimal health, but if we continue to focus on a narrow source of omega-3 raw material we will inevitably cause negative consequences on the world’s oceans.

“The world’s population hit 7bn this week so if we are going to take things out of nature we have to utilize the whole animal or the whole plant,” added Gjendemsjø, who recently launched a new fish-based oils range called Oceans omega-3 derived from the trimmings from seafood processing.

Location, location, location…

While there was still strong growth potential in the omega-3 market, supplement makers needed to find ways to stand out, he said. “It can be very hard for consumers to work out which one is best for them. It’s like vitamins. There are 10-15 brands of any given vitamin. Which one do you pick?

“As for omega-3, I think we’ll see more condition-specific marketing but also a greater focus on quality and sustainability. But we may also see combinations of fish oil and sterol esters and vitamins and different carotenoids."

Right now, he says, “the omega-3 market is highly commoditized. Most manufacturers are offering the same types of concentrates and ratio that were developed over 20 years ago.”

He added: “Much of the low cost omega-3 coming into the market is now being made in China. Being able to tell one’s customer base that your brand’s omega-3 is made in Norway may offer a big advantage.

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