Acetone process key to Neptune's new krill oil with more omega-3s

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / robynmac
© iStock / robynmac

Related tags Krill oil Omega-3 fatty acid Eicosapentaenoic acid Docosahexaenoic acid

Neptune has joined the higher concentration krill fray with its NKO Omega Plus ingredient, which it claims offers the 30% more omega-3s than standard krill offerings.

Neptune (formally known as Neptune Technologies and Bioressources, Inc.) was one of the pioneers of krill oil as a dietary ingredient and did some of the early scientific work on its efficacy and mode of action.  Neptune, along with competitor Aker BioMarine, pushed the phospholipid content of the ingredient which yielded a more digestible form of omega-3s, and got around the ‘fishy burps’ common to fish oil-based omega-3s that turned a number of consumers off of the category.

And Neptune hawked the greater bioefficiency of krill oil. The base product is fairly low in omega-3s; the NOW Foods ‘Neptune Krill Oil’ supplement quotes only 120 mg of EPA and 70 mg of DHA for a one gram serving, below even the base 18:12 specification for fish oil.  But the greater uptake of those omega-3s when bound to phospholipids was supposed to get around that issue, allowing consumers to take only one pill a day, instead of the two or more large pills common to fish oil dosages. Indeed, the Schiff MegaRed product, long the standard bearer of the category, built a huge brand on a single 500 mg serving that yielded only 64 mg of EPA and 30 mg of DHA.

But that message no longer seems to have the cachet it once did.  Sales in the krill category have been tepid in recently years, reflecting the softness of the overall omega-3s market.  With the sale of Schiff to Reckitt Benckiser, the support for the category in the form of the steady drumbeat of the ‘one pill a day’ ad campaign has fallen away. And Neptune’s own research has shown that supplement users have become more educated and have started to ask more questions about krill’s value, given its high price.

“We had a customer approach asking if we could boost our omega-3s profile,” ​Mike Timperio, vice president of global sales for Neptune, told NutraIngredients-USA.  “It’s a way to differentiate one krill brand from another.”

Acetone process key to new ingredient

Neptune suffered a huge setback in November of 2012 with an explosion and fire that destroyed the company’s production facility in Sherbrooke, Quebec and killed three workers. The explosion was the result of the storage of acetone on the site, which the company used in its extraction process. Despite that mournful history, Neptune stuck with acetone when it rebuilt the plant, which has been back to full capacity for several years now. Timperio said the process offers flexibility that other methods of extracting krill don’t. No real retrofitting of the plant was required to produce the new ingredient.

“In this case we used our assets that were already there and we tweaked our process. We looked at the recipe with a different eye, if you will. It’s more in how we used the raw material,”​ he said.

Timperio said the new ingredient will help krill compete more effectively in the crowded omega-3s marketplace. The MegaRed brand was once lauded as the largest selling single omega-3s SKU, but there are hundreds of omega-3s brands in the market and there has been significant innovation in the fish oil space since then.

“We did some consumer research and when we asked if they would buy a krill oil product that had more omega-3s than another brand they said yes. We are a B2B supplier, but we have to be aware of what consumers’ reasoning is when they look at the shelf.  Although krill is a phospholipid-based product is has been low in omega-3s, and having a higher concentration would make it that much more attractive to the consumer because they relate to those omega-3 levels,”​ he said.

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