Omega 3 Beverages
New technologies to make this venerable health ingredient ‘less fishy’ are leading to increased beverage applications.
Omega 3 fatty acids such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), renowned for their cardiovascular benefits, have emerged as one of the top go-to ingredients in a growing variety of functional foods and beverages. While gelatin capsules have typically been the most straightforward way to reap the benefits of fish-oil-derived omega 3, many consumers are put off by the fishy odor and taste. Although getting the nutrient into a palatable beverage can be a daunting task, in recent years ingredient formulators and beverage manufacturers have been working together to discover new ways to mask the nutrient’s “fishy” taste and odor without compromising its health benefits.
Globally, the market for omega 3 enriched drinks is growing steadily, especially in North America, according to a report from Zenith International Ltd, Bath, U.K., which claims the omega 3 enriched beverage market generated global sales in the region of over $7 billion during 2006. North America accounted for nearly 33% of global volume in 2006, followed by Western Europe at 24% and Asia/Australasia at 23%.
Zenith’s Gary Roethenbaugh, market intelligence director, said preliminary figures for 2007 indicate another year of strong growth, with consumption volumes rising 6.5% to 2.362 million liters. In North America, the current 2.2 liters annual average is expected to rise to at least 2.9 liters per person by 2011. Elsewhere, Western Europeans drink an average 1.3 liters per year, East Europeans 0.4 liter and consumers in Asia/Australasia around 0.1 liter. In total, Zenith predicted omega 3 drink sales to rise another 34% by 2011.
The sales figure for North America is about $2.6 billion, which Mr. Roethenbaugh said was calculated on the basis of average price per liter/per unit in the regions under consideration. “Precision is difficult given the blurring boundaries between product types (juice, shake, dairy, milk, soy drink, probiotic, fruit drink) and the way sales are accounted for and reported by manufacturers and retailers,” he explained. “These estimates, calculated in such a way as to try and minimize double-counting, could well prove to be conservative.”
Thanks largely to a “well established taste and appreciation of enriched juices/juice-based drinks,” the Zenith study ranks North Americans as the world’s leading consumers of omega 3 enriched beverages on a per person basis. “North American consumers have been presented with an array of brand offerings from smaller brand owners to a selection of key brands from leading dairy and soft drink multinationals,” noted Mr. Roethenbaugh.
And while North America’s consumers generally enjoy lower average milk and juice/juice-based prices than their West European counterparts, other types of omega 3 enriched soft drinks come at a premium. “Omega 3-enriched juices and milk sit alongside their ‘regular’ counterparts on supermarket shelves,” he said. “Omega 3-enriched juices and milk are priced within reach of most consumers in middle and high incomes. Where pricing differentials are low, consumers may opt for an enhanced product. Own-label options render the sector even more accessible and affordable to a wider demographic.”
Spanning the globe, there are several beverages connecting with consumers in the core omega 3 drinks market. “In no particular order these include: Anchor Vital (New Zealand), Candia aux Oméga 3 (France), Essensis (Europe), Oasis juice (Canada), Danino Go (Canada), Danonino Petit Genío (Spain), Glockengold Balance (Germany), Lactel Maman (France), Minute Maid Enhanced Juices (North America), Munch Bunch Drinky+ (U.K.), Natrel (Canada), Parmalat Omega-3 (Italy), Pfanner Active Balance (West and East Europe), So Good SoyaEssential (U.K.), Sparky Berries (U.K.), Tropicana Healthy Heart with Omega 3 (U.S., international), Yoplait Kids (International),” he said. “In terms of the main companies that are active, these include small, independent dairy and juice operators alongside major dairy, juice and soft drinks companies such as: Coca-Cola, Danone, Fonterra, General Mills, Lactalis, Nestlé, Parmalat, PepsiCo/Tropicana and Wimm-Bill-Dann.”
One U.S.-based company finding success with its omega 3 fortified beverages is Omega Farms of Hayward, CA. The company formulates a range of milk-based foods and beverage products, as well as orange juice and most recently, chocolate milk, with EPA and DHA. The company prides itself on offering all of the benefits of omega 3s “without contaminant concerns or sacrificing delicious taste.” The company’s all-natural omega 3 is derived from purified cod oil from fish in Norwegian Arctic waters. It is 100% odorless and undetectable to the palate. Each serving of Omega Farms products provides 75 mg of EPA and DHA.
Over the last few years, scientists and manufacturers have overcome many of the challenges that previously limited omega 3s’ application in beverage products. Mr. Roethenbaugh noted that technology advancements, such as microencapsulation, have been major contributors to the uptake in omega 3 beverages because they help reduce the fishy odors and taste that tend to arise as omega 3 oxidizes.
One company advancing this initiative is Zymes LLC, Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. The company recently announced that it has successfully solubilized fish oil and omega 3 fatty acids (DHA/EPA/ALA) using its Ubisol-Aqua technology, which provides improved solubility, enhanced bioavailability and particle size reduction to the nanometer level of water-insoluble lipophilic compounds.
The company’s Dr. Volker Berl, vice president, global business and technology development, say the technology’s origins date back to the early 1990s when efforts at the National Research Council in Ottawa, Canada, were then directed toward the goal of solubilizing coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a water-insoluble, lipophilic compound.
“These discoveries led to a new compound that demonstrated superior solubilization of CoQ10 at high concentrations in crystal-clear stable aqueous solutions,” he recalled. “In addition, this new compound successfully solubilized polyene macrolide antifungal antibiotics. Such data encouraged a broader perspective; that this new invention could be viewed as a solubilizing agent for the formulation of a multitude of lipophilic bioactive compounds.”
Since acquiring the license to Ubisol-Aqua in 2006, Zymes has leveraged the features of this nanotechnology to widen its scope of applicability, including lipophilic vitamins and antioxidants, carotenoids, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), essential oils, and plant phytosterols.
In a nutshell, the process solubilizes omega 3 by “reformulating and improving” it. “As is the case with fats in general, PUFAs such as omega 3s are water-insoluble compounds,” explained Dr. Berl. “When mixed with known emulsifiers in water, microemulsions are typically formed. These have the disadvantage of being opaque, as the droplet size is in the order of a micron, a thousandth of a millimeter. Moreover, they are meta-stable; i.e., they can readily break down and separate into oil and water phases. When PUFAs are appropriately mixed with PTS, however, omega 3 oils readily disperse in water resulting in translucent, stable aqueous solutions even at very high concentrations. Clarity is achieved through particle size reduction down to the nanometer level (one billionth of a meter).”
Circumventing the fishy odor and taste boils down to converting the nutrient into a more stable, water-soluble powder, which helps delay oxidation—the point at which fishy odors and tastes become apparent. “There are many methods in the industry known to prolong sensory stability of PUFA microemulsions, but all have only limited success. These include use of antioxidants, enzymes, complexing agents, emulsion surface engineering, chemical derivatization, encapsulation, flavor masking, etc.,” said Dr. Berl. “[Concentrates] Alternatively, particle size reduction (from classic micro-emulsions to PTS-enabled nanoparticles) dramatically changes the characteristics of the solutions they provide.”
In addition, water-soluble dried omega 3 powders inherently enhance the product’s stability. “When oils are absorbed, under solid support, they have a much lesser propensity to oxidize,” said Dr. Berl. “It adds another aspect to stability which doesn’t relate to the liquid (emulsion) phase but is an additional way to reformulate in order to promote long term stability and avoid fishy odor and taste.”
The value of Zymes’ technology for consumer product applications has been further enhanced by obtaining GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status for PTS (polyoxyethanyl-alpha-tocopheryl sebacate), the lead solubilizing compound of its Ubisol-Aqua technology. In addition, Zymes has developed a commercial scale manufacturing process for PTS, and has partnered with a global scale manufacturer to facilitate a reliable, industrial scale supply of PTS and its formulations for global consumer products such as foods, beverages and nutritional supplements.
Zymes is targeting its powdered omega 3 toward “enhanced” waters or sports beverages seeking a clear appearance on the shelf and in the glass.
A key advantage for the future growth of beverages formulated to contain omega 3 is that omega 3 itself is suited for both genders and for consumers of all ages, said Mr. Roethenbaugh. “DHA is a fundamental building block of brain and nerve tissue as well as the retina of the eye. It has proven to be particularly crucial in this regard to fetal development during the last trimester of pregnancy. Following birth, DHA is transferred to babies via breast milk. It is therefore important for expectant mothers to take on enough DHA not just on behalf of their children but also in order to maintain their own supplies. DHA deficiencies at this stage can hinder growth and cognitive development for the child and are thought to contribute to the risk of post-natal depression in the mother,” he pointed out. “For teenagers, although the marketing toward this group is far less specific than for the infant/child/mother market, there are several ‘young’ products on the market that might appeal to this audience thanks to their packaging and placement.
“Through to consumers in their 20s and 30s, during this life stage, men and women start making lifestyle and diet choices that can go on to affect them in later life. In addition, this is a key market for functional drinks players—it is a group that tends to have a relatively large disposable income and is generally happy to pay higher-end prices for tasty, well-designed drinks with wellness or health boosting claims,” he added. “For consumers in their 40s and 50s, the early onset of heart and lung disease, cancer, osteoarthritis and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is thought to be lowered at this stage of life through the recommended intake of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3’s application in juices and milks makes it particularly accessible to this market. This leads on to accessibility to more senior consumers.”
If the current trends continue, the future for omega 3 beverages is most certainly bright. “Omega 3 is a key route for functional drinks to move into the consumer mainstream,” Mr. Roethenbaugh concluded. “Still a niche sector in relative terms, it holds considerable potential for further development, with a wide range of applications open across the food and drinks spectrum.”