Plant-based omega-3 can carve functional niche

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Omega-3 fatty acid

Growing consumer interest in the potential functional benefits of omega-3 will also drive strong demand for flax-based varieties of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), says a new report.

The claims come with the publication of a Frost & Sullivan white paper looking at Flax-based omega-3 Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA), which spies large potential for the plant derived ingredient in functional foods, albeit with some challenges ahead.

According to the paper, which is entitled: Flax-based omega-3 Alpha Linolenic Acid: The Shape of Things to Come, the ingredient remains the least understood variety of PUFA, though may be increasingly prevalent in homes in the coming years if it can distinguish itself as a unique product.

Omega-3 growth

The white paper claims that over two thirds of consumers it has surveyed now say they are aware of omega-3 fatty acids, whatever their form, with a third reported to routinely consume them. Frost & Sullivan adds that such a growing profile has led to an annual increase in the market for omega-3 products by 30 per cent since 2000 due to their potential nutritional benefits.

"Increased media attention regarding obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and rising healthcare costs has had a permanent influence on consumer awareness of their own habits,"​ stated Christopher Shanahan research analyst for Frost. "Consumers increasingly look to functional foods, especially omega-3 ALA, as a way to offset the odds of paying for higher medical care and pharmaceuticals in the future."

Untapped potential

Amidst the growing demand for omega-3 products, the white paper suggests that the ALA form of the fatty acid can carve a niche of its own in the segment for a number of unmet needs from existing products.

The ability for fatty acids that are not detrimental to taste, while also offering easy and cost effective integration in foods can all be met with omega-3 ALA, according to the consulting firm.

"A lot of people do not understand the benefits of flax-based omega-3 ALA compared to the other omega-3 sources,"​ stated Shanahan. "However, because of the increase in consumer knowledge of omega-3 and its health benefits, there is no reason why omega-3 ALA cannot be as valuable as omega-3 EPA and DHA in the food and food ingredient industries."

Flaxseed is currently by far the largest source of plant-based omega-3. Frost & Sullivan estimated in an earlier report that the flax seed sector accounted for 13 percent of the volumes of omega-3 ingredients in 2007.

Related topics: Suppliers, Omega-3

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