The Omega 3 Market: Essentially Innovative

By Lisa Schofield, Contributing Writer | September 9, 2013

As Big Pharma gets in the game, will dietary supplement companies be swimming upstream?

Driven by years and reams of credible science, omega 3 fatty acids continue to draw intense interest among research and development teams as well as marketers looking to offer a “wow” factor through product innovation.  

Market Overview
Growth overall has been spirited globally. Diana Cowland, health and wellness analyst for Euromonitor International, estimated the global omega 3 market in packaged format (i.e., supplements, food and drink) reached $33 billion in sales in 2012, 72% of which stemmed from milk formula alone. “Meanwhile, omega 3 interest in heart, brain and vision health shows no sign of slowing down as consumers continue to understand its benefits,” she noted. Omega 3 supplements, for example, were the third fastest-growing type of supplement globally between 2007 and 2012 with a 12% CAGR.

Supplements actually rank third in the omega 3 product hierarchy ($3.2 billion or 12.7%), according to David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts, Rockville, MD. Thanks to science indicating that omega 3s are vital to brain and eye development in babies, infant formula anchors the market, according to Packaged Facts’  “Global Market for EPA/DHA Omega-3 Products” (September 2012). Approximately 87% of infant formula is EPA/DHA fortified, creating a $10.2 billion dollar market, or 40% of the total. Ranking second in omega 3 product categories, fortified foods and beverages brought in $7.9 billion, or 31%. Nutritional supplements are followed by pharmaceutical products at $1.9 billion and clinical nutrition products at $1.4 billion. The smallest of the product categories, omega 3 fortified pet consumables generated $900 million.

Global production of omega 3 products is estimated at 2.49 million metric tons, worth $4.5 billion in 2013, according to Amadee Bender, founder, CEO of Amadee & Company, Inc., Bay Harbor Islands, FL, who cited his company’s newest report, “Omega-3 Marine and Plant Products: Global Markets, Competitors and Opportunities—2012-2018 Analysis and Forecasts,” published July 2013.

Production is forecast to grow a mammoth 32.8% annually in volume (15.1% in value) by 2018, by which time 3.3 million metric tons worth $9.1 billion will be produced. “Plant omega 3 production value is expected to grow twice as fast as marine during the next five years,” Mr. Bender predicted. “As a result, by 2018, plant omega 3s will account for 52% of production value compared to 48% for marine. Plant omega 3s will benefit from consumers’ desire to get away from animal based products.”

Packaged Facts projected the consumer market for DHA-fortified infant formula will reach $14.2 billion in 2016, while EPA/DHA-fortified foods and beverages will reach $10.2 billion, EPA/DHA nutritional supplements will reach $4.6 billion, EPA/ DHA pharmaceuticals will reach $3.1 billion and clinical nutrition products will reach $1.7 billion.

Pharma Presence
With the pharmaceutical industry getting into the game (GlaxoSmithKline’s Lovaza, AstraZeneca’s forthcoming Epanova and Amarin’s Vascepa) the initial reaction may be one of territoriality, especially for brand marketers/finished product manufacturers. However, suppliers are predominantly optimistic about this type of competition.

“Prescription omega 3s have very little impact on the supplement and food industries as over-the-counter products are natural triglycerides, similar in potency, less expensive and offer the same benefits,” said Mary Ann Siciliano, national sales manager, Arista Industries, Inc., Wilton, CT. “Prescription-grade omega 3s offer the same benefits as over-the-counter supplements at a much higher cost. Some practitioners also offer supplement lines from brand marketers in their office.”

Becky Wright, communications and marketing manager, Aker BioMarine, Issaquah, WA, opined that “the involvement and early success of pharmaceutical companies in this space helps further legitimize omega 3s in the eyes of consumers and medical professionals. The bottom line is pharmaceutical companies would not get into this game if there was no money to be made and there was no real benefit to consumers. Omega 3 companies should welcome these players because it only elevates this game and prompts innovation. Plus, a rising tide lifts all boats—pun intended!”

David Hart, vice president of marketing, Israel-based algae company Qualitas Health, agreed, noting that the rigorous science created during the drug development process has a positive effect on the market. The clinical research, notably on Epanova and Vascepa, he said, highlight the importance of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) to lower triglyceride levels. “This more sophisticated understanding and validation in the pharma world will trickle-down through the supplement and functional food markets; it will help bolster consumer acceptance of specialized omega 3 products, especially those with high levels of EPA, to support their health.”  

Omega 3 prescriptions have coexisted harmoniously with dietary supplements because there is a clear distinction between their roles and uses, according to Dr. Tina Sampalis, chief global strategy officer, Neptune Technologies and Bioressources, Laval, Quebec, Canada. Omega 3 dietary supplements maintain good health and reduce risk for mild conditions, while omega 3 pharmaceuticals are designed to prevent morbidity and treat disease.

This is good news and a sigh of relief for the retail and consumer markets, but what about that practitioner market that is opening up more and more to supplements? Would physicians be inclined to prescribe an omega 3 for their heart patients and leave it at that? Do supplement companies have a chance to compete? Well, according to Ms. Wright, just because a company isn’t selling an omega 3 drug “does not mean you can’t still grab the attention of doctors. There are plenty of patients who can still greatly benefit from omega 3s for a specific benefit or just for general wellness. Awareness is definitely on our side and we can use that to our advantage.”

In Mr. Hart’s view, the extraordinary scientific, regulatory and marketing power brought about by the pharmaceutical companies will encourage awareness and use of omega 3 products for specific treatment regimens, and thus may be able to persuade practitioners who are normally skeptical of supplements to engage in trial.

Therefore, the omega 3 pharmaceutical market will show strong growth during the next five years, according to Mr. Bender, who said, “their share of volume will remain the same but their share of value will double. Pharmaceuticals represent a large potential market for omega 3s.” Amadee & Company’s report estimated that the total prescription omega 3 market generated more than $2 billion in global sales in 2012. Approximately 5 million prescriptions for omega 3 products (Lovaza, Vascepa and Epanova) are forecast to be written in 2013, jumping to 10.7 million by 2019.

Growth Factors
A central factor for growth in this market continues to be the growing range of health benefits attributed to EPA/DHA omega 3s. According to Packaged Facts’ Mr. Sprinkle, there are more than 2,000 human clinical trials on the effects and benefits of omega 3s, including large, prospective, long-term, randomized, controlled trials. Further, multiple evidence-based reviews and meta-analyses have shown that increased intake of EPA and DHA significantly reduced risks of chronic disease.

Because of the quality and quantity of research and consumers’ increased awareness and desire to consume omega 3s, companies have launched targeted products to meet consumer needs and expectations. “There have been a number of recent studies that have helped to support the many benefits of omega 3s like the DOLAB and the Carlson studies,” noted Megan Gorczyca, marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products.

The DHA Oxford Learning and Behavior (DOLAB) trial (published in September 2012) found that school-aged children with low reading levels experienced significant improvements in this area when they increased dietary intake of algal DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). More recently, in July 2013, an observational study of the same group of children demonstrated that low DHA blood levels were linked to decreased reading ability and memory performance. Enrollment has already begun for a follow-up study to further investigate this area.

Another 2013 study published by the University of Kansas Medical Center found DHA supplements might lengthen gestation and increase birth size. The results of the study add to previous evidence that omega 3 fatty acid supplements help to extend pregnancy, providing more time for babies to develop with a better long-term health outlook.

These examples underscore more opportunities to develop unique omega 3-containing products for moms-to-be and for children. Innovation, rather than simple me-too omega 3 soft gels, is the order of the day if products are to succeed.

“Because omega 3s cater to so many different consumers, there are many preferences to consider,” said Aker BioMarine’s Ms. Wright. “For those who have trouble with pills, for example, companies found a way to put omega 3s into emulsions that appeal to kids and adults alike. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in the omega 3 market anymore. New and emerging sources as well as delivery forms will continue to be an area of rapid development.”

Andreas Koch, marketing director for Barleans, Ferndale, WA, pointed to increasing knowledge and consumer health media emphasis on the diet-imposed imbalance of omega 3 to omega 6 as a growth factor for omega 3 products. “Today, industrialization of our food supply has led to a heavily processed, grain-based diet for us and for the animals we eat. This is a diet rich in omega 6. The result is increased inflammation of our cells. Modern foods have dramatically altered the balance of omega 3 and omega 6 in all of our bodies and it causes inflammation that can be linked to cases of stress, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.”

Industry Innovations
Neptune’s subsidiary Acasti Pharma launched an omega 3 phospholipid medical food, developed for the specific dietary management of illness associated with omega 3 phospholipid deficiencies related to cardio-metabolic disorders, which affect almost 35% of American adults, according to the American Heart Association. Dr. Sampalis noted it is currently sold under doctor’s observation in the U.S. market.  Acasti also claims to be the first company to develop an omega 3 phospholipid (CaPre) as a prescription drug candidate. CaPre is indicated for the prevention and overall treatment of hypertriglyceridemia and is currently undergoing two Phase II clinical trials.

DSM’s MEG-3 Powder-loc technology has, according to the company’s Ms. Gorczyca, significantly enhanced the ability of food manufacturers to use fish oil as a healthy food ingredient. It uses a double shell protection system to keep the EPA and DHA locked into the microcap while keeping the smell and taste of fish locked out of the food. In addition, the company’s algae-derived life’sOMEGA is a vegetarian omega 3 created to support heart health.

At Aker BioMarine, Ms. Wright said the supplier will soon launch a new krill powder suitable for tablet and capsule applications. “It opens up another avenue of delivery we did not have before,” she said. “Following that, we are hoping to bring a gummy application to market. The company’s flagship Superba Krill is a natural, clean and effective form of marine omega 3s that was “brought to market because we knew we could improve upon traditional offerings of marine and plant omega 3s by providing a source based on phospholipids. Because krill’s omega 3s are bound to phospholipids, these fatty acids are more efficiently delivered to key cells, tissues and organs throughout the body,” according to Ms. Wright.

Qualitas Health’s new omega 3 ingredient, explained Mr. Hart, is a non-GMO strain of algae, also suitable for vegetarians and is characterized by its composition: it contains polar lipids—phospholipids and glycolipids, and contains only EPA, which research shows is important to support mental health and mood as well as healthy triglyceride levels/cardiovascular health.

A New Omega 3 World
Consumers are now frequently told to eat more cold-water fish to obtain the health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. But people who just can’t stomach a food with scales are increasingly turning to a widening array of omega 3 supplements and foods. As such, innovation is highly important—products need to deliver the appropriate amounts of EPA and/or DHA, and taste good/clean.

Independent formulator Beverly Emerson, president of Olive Tree Product Development, LLC, Edmonds, WA, has worked with many companies and their omega 3 products. At this stage of the game, she said, “Getting omega 3s to taste good isn’t only nice to have, it’s critical. The number one reason consumers stop taking traditional fish oil supplements is because of the burp-back. No one wants to taste fish for three hours. Incorporating omega 3s (whether land-based flax or chia, or sea-based algae or fish) successfully into supplements, foods/beverages requires diligent sourcing, formulation and processing parameters.”

The following are keys to optimizing flavor when using omega 3s, according to Ms. Emerson. Use the “cleanest” oil or seed that you can find. The older the raw material, and the less the refining that has been done initially, the more fishy it will taste. The quality varies widely, so be diligent about testing the raw material and evaluate the finished product over time. Almost all products will taste good initially, but off-flavors occur over time, as reactions progress.  

Minimize the presence of light, heat, oxygen, water and minerals in the formulation and processing. All of these contribute to the chemical reactions that cause that fishy flavor, but an experienced scientist can work with your team to determine which factors are most critical and determine how to minimize the reactions.

Take advantage of advances in flavor technology. A good flavor house can make significant contributions to flavor masking, and help you choose flavors for the finished product that work well with the natural flavor profile of the omega 3 ingredients.  

On the finished product front, Euromonitor’s Ms. Cowland has combed through introductions from the past three years and pointed to the following examples of fresh thinking that keeps the consumer in mind. In the U.S., Minute Maid Enhanced Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored 100% Juice Blend was launched in 2010 in single serve portions providing 70 mg per 355 ml of an algal form of DHA. The product touts nourishing the brain. In 2011, Weight.com Inc. launched Actilean Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars fortified with 240 mg of vegetarian DHA, offered as part of its online weight loss program.  Meanwhile, this year, German food retailer Edeka and researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV created a technique of enabling sausage varieties to contain DHA and EPA because many Germans do not obtain enough omega 3s through low consumption of fish.

Just a few short years ago, essential fatty acid supplement specialist Barleans introduced its Omega Swirl line, which it has since expanded with several new flavors. The high omega 3-containing food supplement offers the taste and texture of a creamy fruit smoothie. Further, Mr. Koch explained, a clinical study on the product conducted by The Centre for Nutritional Studies found it to be 90% more bioavailable than standard fish oil. “In the study, the total percentage of oil that reached the blood stream was 10-times greater with Omega Swirl than the same dose of fish oil. Theoretically, it could take up to 20 standard fish oil gel caps to equal the amount of omega 3 delivered to the bloodstream by just one, two teaspoon dose of Omega Swirl.  

It seems every week there is news about EPA and/or DHA, whether it’s new research, new products, a new source or a new technology. If an omega 3 product (new or improved) is in your future, there’s much to be excited about.

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