Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova Market Insights, explained, “While awareness of the potential health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids has risen over the years, recent tightening up of claims legislation has tended to decrease the use of this type of claim in relation to specific benefits.” She added, “Terms such as ‘high in omega 3s,’ ‘contains omega 3s,’ ‘rich in omega 3s,’ have continued to be used, but links to heart health, brain and cognitive health, eye health, etc. have been much less in evidence, with companies relying more on existing consumer knowledge about potential benefits.”
Innova indicated that the higher level of interest in functional foods and beverages in North America has helped propel the popularity of omega 3 products in the dairy sector within the region. According to the research firm, North America accounts for the largest number of dairy launches using omega 3 claims, with nearly 35% of the global total. The region also has the highest share in terms of total dairy launches, with 3.8%, ahead of the also relatively health-conscious Asian market with over 2.6%.
The key dairy sectors in terms of omega 3 claims are yellow fats and milks, accounting for just over 80% of global launches using either omega 3 or DHA claims (or both) in the 12 months to the end of October 2013. While the actual number of launches featuring omega 3 claims is not vastly dissimilar in each of the two categories, the significance is very different. Omega 3 claims featured in just over 10% of yellow fats introductions, compared with a more modest 3% of the far more numerous milk and milk drink introductions over the same period.
The positioning of yellow fats with omega 3 claims has changed in recent years, with the original claims regarding cholesterol maintenance and heart and circulatory health now starting to give way to more generalized “health for all the family” or “active healthy living” positionings.
Spain is the European leader in omega 3 milks, reflecting the highly developed status of the functional milks sector as a whole. Calcium-fortified lines are very well established and lead the functional milks market, but more recently there has been rising interest in heart health (Corazon) milks, particularly omega 3 lines, which accounted for 6% of total milk introductions in the 12 months to the end of October 2013.
Across the Atlantic, the U.S. is also seeing rising interest in omega 3 fortified milks, with Innova Market Insights data indicating that nearly 8% of U.S. milk launches in the 12 months to the end of October 2013 featured omega 3 claims, even further ahead of the global figure of 3%.
“Although product activity in omega 3 fortified dairy products has been rather less in evidence in recent years,” Ms. Williams concluded, “clearly there is still interest in the sector and potential for further development, particularly considering the wide range of different health benefits associated with it.”