Special Edition: Omega-3s

Convenience, concentrates, and 3rd generation forms: Where’s the innovation in the omega-3 space?

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid

Are natural retail buyers bored with fish oil? Can concentrates, convenience, combination products, and third generation forms re-engage them?

The overall market for omega-3 supplements in the US has been flat or in decline in recent years, some of which is related to negative media around the products, and some may be linked to shrinking shelf space at retailers.

“I think that natural channel retail buyers are pretty bored with fish oil,”​ observed Sam Wiley, CEO of Wiley’s Finest. “You could ask how they can be bored with fish oil: Look at the amazing benefits of long chain omega-3 fatty acids. What you have to remember is that our industry has been a fad-driven industry for decades. For fish oil, the fad is wearing off but the science isn’t going away.”

“One of things that I see is that the natural channel retailers still really are the heart and soul of dietary supplements, and they do influence what happens at mass because they drive the conversation, and I do think they’re bored with it. How can we re-excite them about the health benefits?”

One possible avenue is convenience. Dr Matthew Roberts, Chief Scientific Officer of NBTY, thinks that the industry needs to make the products fit more easily into people’s lives. “And we need to give them some refresh and innovation in the category,”​ he said.

Data from GOED – the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s – backs up the convenience issue. Adam Ismail, GOED’s Executive Director, told us: “We did some research on convenience forms of omega-3s, the stuff that’s more convenient for consumers to take like an emulsion product or a high concentrate in a smaller pill, over a two year period 2012-2014, and we found that in 2012 those products were 10% of the market, and by 2014 they were one third of the market. Even though consumer sales were declining for the overall omega-3 category, these products were continuing to grow. There really is this move to have consumer products fit into consumer lifestyles.”

“Our insights would say that there’s a lot of potential for concentrates because we can drive compliance through smaller pills and we can start to combine that with other ingredients more effectively,” ​said NBTY’s Dr Roberts. “I think that’s a consumer insight that cuts across the food industry. People would like single solutions with multi components. Omega-3 has a lot of potential if innovated in both form and concentration.”

omega 3 fish oil iStock.com nicalfc
"There’s a lot of potential for concentrates because we can drive compliance through smaller pills and we can start to combine that with other ingredients more effectively,” said NBTY’s Dr Matthew Roberts.Image: iStockPhoto / nicalfc


According to GOED data, the global concentrates market at an ingredient level for all uses was values at $675 million in 2014, which was slightly down on $721 million in 2013. Dietary supplements represented $198 million of this globally in 2014. Omega-3 concentrates for dietary supplements in the US were $52 million in 2014.

One of the leading suppliers in the concentrate sector is BASF, and Charles Barber, Head of Science, Regulatory, Applications and Quality, BASF Human Nutrition, North America, told us that the company is “happy to be in the growing part of the omega-3 market with our high concentrates.” ​The company predominantly sources its fish oil from the sardine and anchovy fishery off the coast of Peru. 

“With our successful launch of an ultra-high 90% omega-3 concentrate, Pronova Pure 46:38 DS, we are setting a new standard in dietary supplements based on proprietary production technology and over a decade of know-how in pharmaceutical omega-3 products,” ​he said.

Barber noted that consumers are becoming savvier when purchasing omega-3 products because they’re more educated and are paying more attention to prevention versus treatment as well as clinical efficacy. 

“As a supplier of high quality concentrates, BASF is partly responsible for driving this increased consumer interest,” ​he said. “In fact, BASF is contributing to the totality of scientific evidence by providing ingredients and supporting two very large clinical trials in the U.S. and Europe using our 46:38 product and assessing the impact of 1 g/d on cardiovascular outcomes.  Combined, these clinical trials will encompass more than 30,000 participants taking omega-3 for several years, with results expected in 2017 and 2018.

“Long-term, well- designed studies like these become the basis for building consumer confidence and subsequently drive interest and ultimately sales of concentrates.”

Combination products

Another area of innovation within the category is to combine omega-3s with other key ingredients in their formulations. GOED’s Ismail noted that there are more and more of these combination products, but it’s primarily fish oil with multivitamins. “You do see some products like fish oil and CoQ10, but the leading combinations are multivitamins and omega-3s,”​ he said. “You see this kind of combination product very clearly in the pre-natal space.”


Omega-3 combinations were very visible among the new products launched at the Natural Products Expo West event in Anaheim. For example, Wiley’s Finest launched two products for children: One with additional multivitamins and MenaQ7 vitamin K2 (the Beginner’s DHA product), the other with additional multivitamins and FloraGlo lutein (the Elementary EPA product).

Nordic Naturals launched its Omega Curcumin product offering 1,000 mg doses of omega-3s DHA and EPA along with Longvida curcumin, L-glutathione, and NAC for “cellular stress recovery”​.

Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA in Anaheim in March, Monique Wellisse, manager of education and professional sales at Nordic Naturals, said that the product was “the most elegant formula we’ve ever launched. This is the product that has excited us the most in company history.”

Third generation forms

The cutting edge of omega-3 innovation is happening with the so-called third generation omega-3 forms, and most of the innovation here is happening in the pharmaceutical space, said Ismail. (First generation omega-3 forms were fish oil and cod liver oil. Second generation omega-3 forms included triglycerides, methyl and ethyl esters, and phospholipid forms.)

One such innovative form is omega-3 salts – soluble forms of EPA and DHA that are believed to be better absorbed – and the potential market size for these could range from $1-5 billion.

Another developing form to watch is glycolipids, in which the fatty acids are attached to carbohydrates, but are similar to phospholipids in that they are found in cell membranes.

Source: Qualitas

Algae player Qualitas offers an algal oil that contains omega-3s in both glycolipid and phospholipid form, which it brands Almega PL. Qualitas derives its algal oil from a salt water photosynthetic species of algae called Nannochloropsis oculata​.  The species yields an oil rich in EPA (with no DHA) that is bound to phospholipids and glycolipids, known together as polar lipids. 

Wax esters, historically associated with penguin, seal, and whale oil, are being produced by Norwegian company Calanus, which extracts them from the copepods of the same name (Calanus finmarchicus​).

Omega-3 wax esters are believed to have a ‘longer burn time’ than other forms of fatty acids, and therefore get deeper into the gut. This allows the EPA and DHA to activate specialized receptors for glucose tolerance and fat distribution thought to be in the later sections of the intestine. This would open up potential blood glucose management and weight management supplement applications.

Only one commercial product containing wax esters from calanus is currently available in the US: Arctic Ruby Oil. The product is expensive compared with other omega-3 forms, and retails for $59.95 for 60 soft gels (30 servings).

Resolvins and protectins

“I think lipid mediator products are going to be big,” ​said Ismail. “These will be huge in pharma, but also in nutrition.”​ These mediators are resolvins and protectins, which are biological derivatives of EPA and DHA that have potent anti-inflammatory and cell protection properties.

Metagenics OmegaGenics SPM Active

Metagenics already has a supplement product formulated with these mediators available in the practitioner channel: OmegaGenics SPM Active. John Troup, PhD, Chief Science Officer at Metagenics, told us that the product is a “revolutionary new nutritional product developed through advanced fractionation technology featuring standardized levels of SPMs (18-hydroxy-eicosapentaenoic acid (18-HEPE) and 17-hydroxy-docosahexaenoic acid (17-HDHA)) found in fish oil. It is specially designed for individuals who may benefit from direct supplementation of SPMs to support the resolution of the immune response.”

The product, which retails for $69.95 for 60 softgels (serving size 2 softgels), was launched in September 2015. “The response from the practitioner community has been tremendous,”​ said Dr Troup.

Because SPMs are new to the consumers, Metagenics is providing, “an extensive amount training to the practitioner community”, ​said Dr Troup. “We are telling a new story and we are committed to educating the practitioner community for some time.” 

The company has positioned the product for immune support. Dr Troup explained that, in healthy individuals, the body’s natural immune response is employed to resolve these countless challenges. However, if left unresolved, constant activation of the immune response may lead to potential long-term health concerns. “For those individuals, additional nutritional support may be beneficial to promote the resolution of the immune response,”​ he said.   

“The immune response has two distinct phases: 1) initiation phase and 2) resolution phase. This second phase is what practitioners are finding so exciting. It was once thought that the resolution of the immune response was a passive process. However, recent ground-breaking research has identified a structured and orderly system to actively resolve the immune response. During the resolution phase, specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) are produced at the affected tissue site and function as “resolution agonists,” orchestrating the resolution-related activities and facilitating the return to the previous healthy condition.

“If an individual is unable to produce desirable levels of SPMs–due to lifestyle behaviour, dietary choices, or health status–in response to an immune challenge, the resolution of the immune response can be impacted. Since SPMs have been found to be critical for the resolution, SPM supplementation represents a more targeted nutritional approach to support the resolution of the immune response.” 

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