Leatherhead asks: Where next for omega-3?

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Docosahexaenoic acid, Eicosapentaenoic acid

Omega-3 is the healthy ingredient on everyone's lips - both
suppliers and consumers. As research sheds light on its benefits
and more sources become available, Leatherhead is planning a major
research project to determine the market's likely future direction.

At a time when consumers are swinging towards healthier choices, more and more products are appearing on retail shelves that contain omega-3, either as a lone healthy ingredient or in combination with others such as plant sterols or probiotics. Product types range from traditional supplements to eggs, milk and dairy, to 'healthy' confectionery and prepared meals, and platforms include heart health, joint health, cognitive function and eye health.

Leatherhead is giving industry members the opportunity to be involved in its proposed research, which aims to establish the likely future market potential and requirements in Europe, as well as identify current trends, suppliers, types available, applications and end-uses, and consumer awareness and understanding.

In the current climate, suppliers and food companies are eager to identify the likely next step for the market early on, so as to get ahead of the competition. A number of healthy ingredient suppliers have made strategic acquisition in the past 12 months or entered into collaborations that enable them to have a hand in the omega-3 market.

For example, Cognis acquired Norwegian fish oil provider Napro Pharma in July and will launch its Omevital fish oil at Health Ingredients Europe in Frankfurt next week; Firmenich chose omega-3 for its first foray into health and nutrition ingredients with microencapsulated Duralife; Spain's Puleva Biotech signed an agreement with US-based The Wright Group for its Eupoly fish oils to be used in a new line of microencapsulated powders; and Borregaard-owned Denomega Nutritional Oils has secured its fish oil supply with a long-term agreement with sea food company Fjordlaks.

Non-marine and microalgae sources are also of interest, even though ALA (alpha linoleic acid) is understood to be less bioavailable for humans than DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), on which the bulk of the research has been based: since May Frutarom has been supplying ALA-rich Salvia seed oil, following a marketing and distribution agreement with compatriot Magnetica Interactive.

Leatherhead is also aiming to put a figure on the European omega-3 market. Previous estimates put it at around €160m in 2004, with Frost and Sullivan and Euromonitor International forecasting average annual growth of eight per cent to 2010.

A good deal of the interest in this area stems from positive study results that have given weight to its propounded benefits for heart health, leading to health claims in markets such as the UK and the US. Some evidence, albeit at an earlier stage and somewhat controversial, has also linked it to cognitive function (particularly in ADHD children), joint health, eye health and gut health.

Leatherhead's research project will cover five major European markets: the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain (with particular emphasis on the first three). It will get underway at the end of December. Research methods will involve desk research, and primary industrial market and consumer research.

The main fieldwork will be conducted in February 2007, and the results are expected to be made available in April.

In addition to receiving the final report and the opportunity of review meeting if required, those companies that pledge their support by December 20 will have the opportunity to pose a confidential closed question as part of the consumer research element.For more information on the project please contact Ian Scholan

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