Special Edition: Omega-3s

As pace of innovation slows, new sources of omega-3s, higher concentrates, combo products still appearing

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

As pace of innovation slows, new sources of omega-3s, higher concentrates, combo products still appearing
Omega-3s companies continue to seek ways to differentiate their products. Among the innovations that are appearing in the marketplace are new combination products, new sources of raw material supply and a continued push toward higher concentrations of EPA and DHA.

Innovation is often a facet either of immature, still developing market sectors or a new pull from the marketplace. Neither is true in the omega-3s field, which in the form of fish oil is one of the oldest dietary ingredients of all with a market history that extends back more than a hundred years. It makes for a ‘system’ in which tried and true delivery forms and applications have had a long time to come to the fore and prove themselves. 

A maturing system?

The noted paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once observed in an essay on why there are no more .400 hitters in baseball that systems over time tend to settle around a mean.  New ecological niches that open up in the fossil record are first filled with all manner of feeding strategies and body arrangements, then gradually settle around those that work best and the standard deviation of the system diminishes. Outliers, like the .400 hitter, tend to fall by the wayside. 

The same process might be playing out in the omega-3s sphere. The benefits of EPA and DHA have long been established. The health indication they have been most researched for—cardiovascular health—is long term and prophylactic in nature, which doesn’t lend itself to quick-fix type products hitting the market in short time frames.  It adds up to a product category where one would not expect huge swings in innovation.  

That’s not to say there is no innovation, just that it tends to fall into certain buckets.   Ellen Schutt, executive director of the Global Organization of EPA and DHA Omega 3s, said that one of the biggest buckets is filled by companies seeking out new sources of supply.

“As for product innovation, I would say that there really isn’t very much,” Schutt told NutraIngredients-USA. “What I do see, though, is new sources of supply.  There are more algal products coming on the market.  And companies have developed other sources, like calamari oil or oil from herring roe.”

Plant-based sources

One of the newest players in the field of new sources is iWi, a finished products brand launched by Qualitas Health​. The iWi products are based on Qualitas’s proprietary strain of Nannochloropsis​ that yields an ingredient rich in both phospholipids and glycolipids that is said to be more bioavailable than krill oil.  The company is combing this with an algal-based DHA in a line that includes four products with a sustainable, vegan positioning.

Other new plant based sources are coming on line, too.  In the UK, Rothampsted Research is developing a variety of the oilseed crop Camelina sativa​ that contains a significant amount of EPA and DHA​.  The leader of the project, Prof. Johnathan Napier, said if successful, the transgenic plant could be an important aquaculture feed source as well as supply human nutrition uses, assuming regulatory hurdles can be overcome.  IN addition, Nature’s Crops International has its own plant-based omega-3 oil on the market in the form of Ahiflower, a non GM variety of Buglossoides avrensis​.  The plant oil contains ALA and well as high levels of SDA (steriodonic acid), which is an intermediate metabolite between ALA and DHA.  The argument against plant-based omega-3s in the past has been the very low conversion ratio of ALA to DHA (somewhere between 2.5% to 6% or 7%, depending on the person).  The SDA conversion ration is said to be much higher, getting around this issue to some extent.

New marine sources

In the area of marine sources, another new ingredient on the market combines both the idea of a new source with another innovation stream in the field, that of moving from the base ingredients EPA and DHA toward finding ways to delivery the active metabolites of these fatty acids.  Marine Ingredients, a division of KD Pharma, has brought to market an ingredient called NutraSolv3​, made from fresh caught livers of Bering Sea cod. The oil is touted for its vitamin A and D content, as well metabolites it refers to as ‘preresolving mediators’ including 14-HDHA (hydroxydocosahexaenoic acid), 17-HDHA and 18-HEPA (hydroxyeicosapentaenoic acid).  The company says careful processing of the raw material  that takes place in the Aleutian Islands close to the fishing grounds preserves these labile constituents.

The Marine Ingredients’ effort joins another Bering Sea source, that of Organic Technologies’ AlaskOmega oil that it sources from the Alaskan pollock fishery. The oil is featured in the company’s finished products line, which is sold under the Wiley’s Finest brand name.  Wiley’s Finest CEO Sam Wiley said consumers are starting to connect more and more with the company’s sustainable, made in USA message.

“I think it’s important to be able to offer consumers that choice. They won’t pay a premium for it, but all other things being equal, we find they like the choice of an Alaskan fish oil,”​ Wiley said.

Concentrates continue to flood market

Schutt said there while new products haven’t been coming out of the woodwork, there has been a move on the finished product side toward combination products.  One prominent recent combo has been omega-3 fish oils teamed with vitamin K2.

“This makes sense because they both have strong evidence for cardiovascular benefit,”​ she said.

“One other thing we see is more high concentrate products.  That is not necessarily a new innovation, but it is a very strong continuing trend in the market.  One big development along these lines is that Walmart just redid their whole product line, and their lowest concentrate products now deliver at least 500 mg of omega-3s per serving,” ​Schutt said.

Omega-3s online event

GOED director Ellen Schutt and Prof. Johnathan Napier of Rothampsted Research will join Prof. William Harris of the University of South Dakota to discuss the latest trends in research, product development, markets and regulatory questions in a FREE online panel discussion.  To register for the event, which is scheduled for 11:30 AM Eastern time on June 26, click here​.

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