Sales are niche, but “omega-3 craze” is not over, says industry

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Danino spells 'withdrawn' in Canada
Danino spells 'withdrawn' in Canada
High-profile omega-3 product withdrawals or underperforming products do not signal a crisis in the category, rather an acknowledgement of its nascent status, industry figures have said.

Responding to a recent article in Kids Nutrition Report (KNR) ​that highlighted market removal of a Danone DHA-fortified yogurt in Canada called Danino and underwhelming sales of a Sara Lee DHA bread in the US, Ocean Nutrition Canada chairman Robert Orr said the state of play reflected an industry that was still figuring out the best way to incorporate omega-3s into foods and market them.

Orr said the global deficiency in omega-3s was only slowly being addressed, the broader functional foods market still developing, and therefore sectors like his were taking the “long view”.

“Yes there have been failures – but the omega-3 success rate for new products is still significantly better than average of new products,”​ he said, noting sales were modest but above other food industry sectors.

“Yes they will remain predominantly niche and lifestyle oriented for some years yet as the food industry figures out how to market health and products that cost more because their ingredients cost more.”

"The truth is that EPA and DHA are important to human health and well being. Omega-3s are among the largest dietary deficiencies in the western diet. The need and demand to improve health is not going away.”

Rethink

The KNR​ story said another product, a Unilever omega-3 dairy drink called Amaze marketed with brain health claims, had been pulled from the market in Turkey after four years and was no longer showing up in Unilever’s Indian communications.

“Omega-3 has become a major success in some areas: around the world the omega-3 dietary supplement business is thriving, with supplement sales up 10% in the US in 2010, to over $1 billion (€750 million), making omega-3 the biggest dietary supplement category,”​ the article states.

“Omega-3 has also become a standard ingredient in infant formula. But in food and beverage the omega-3 craze is over – until the omega-3 industry rethinks its strategy. Every year producers of omega-3 oils – from marine and from algal sources – hope for their big-break through. And every year produces another disappointment; 2010 was no exception, and until there’s a major re-think among ingredient suppliers about their technology and strategy, 2011 will be no better, and nor will any following year.”

The article goes on to highlight how formulation improvements are necessary to enable higher-dose foods and drinks to compete with dietary supplements and other heart health offerings like pomegranate and fiber.

RDIs

KNR​ said the establishment of recommended dietary intakes (RDIs) which the omega-3 industry had lobbied for and been rewarded with in the European Union recently, would not be as valuable as the industry expected.

“Japan has an RDA for omega-3 fatty acids – it is recommended that 2,600mg of DHA be consumed daily – but even so it’s had limited effect on the omega-3 market. Japanese people prefer to get their omega-3 from fish or from supplements – and Westerners are showing every sign of going the same way.”

Adam Ismail, the executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) said RDIs were important for reasons that were not directly related to their on-package advice.

“An RDI does provide a point of differentiation, in that those countries where omega-3s have RDIs make omega-3s the only ingredient for heart health that has the recognition of an RDI (with the exception of vitamin E),”​ he said.

“Also, health claims and fortification levels tend to stem from RDIs. In Europe for example, the new daily recommended value (DRV) for omega-3s is actually based on its heart health benefits, and the dosage levels required for using heart health claims will in turn based on this DRV. So in countries with meaningful RDIs, consumers get meaningful dosages in their products.”

GOED will be discussing the issue of RDIs at a conference​ it is hosting in Salt Lake City on January 14-15, 2011.

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