Fish oils becoming a lexicon among health-minded consumers

Will the recent Prop 65 lawsuit about fish oil affect sales? Retailers say the suit lacks credibility, and oil experts say that Omega-3s are embedded in consumer's minds as a healthy oil for cognition, joint and heart health, so the fallout may be minimal.

"When I saw this on Good Morning America. I must say, I was pleased because typically these programs jump all over these things and say, 'yeah, this is terrible.' Just one sample, one bottle, whatever—they said it wasn't a representative sampling. The doctor on the show even said it wasn't a fair lawsuit because they only looked at certain brands. He wasn't jumping on the bandwagon," said Carole Childers, owner, All Ways Healthy Natural Food Center, Lake Zurich, Ill., in a Natural Foods Merchandiser interview.

According to Nutrition Business Journal, U.S. consumer sales of fish and animal oil dietary supplements totaled $739 million on growth of 18% in 2008. The numbers reflect that more and more consumers know that fish oil and Omegas are better for them, though they may not know exactly why or the difference between the various fats. That was the message from a recent Nutracon speaker, Roger Daniels, Director of Research and Development for Bunge Oils in the Healthy Oils track. Daniels told the audience there is a growing awareness about the importance of Omega-based fatty acids, healthy oils and the dangers of trans fats.

Daniels presented research from a Consumer Insight Study that evaluated consumer awareness about different fats. The findings showed that consumer preferences for oils are shifting along with the economy. Although taste is still the number one concern, but price rose from fourth to second from 2007 to 2008. Even so, in 2008, personal health and nutrition placed third and fourth.

This is in line with an overall increased awareness about healthy fats, especially Omegas. Consumers understand they are healthier, Daniels said, but they do not understand the difference between Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9. The study showed that some consumers think Omega-9 is healthier because it has a higher number.

Daniels also said that the consumers who are more likely to choose healthier oils are those who experience a specific life occurrence. The triggers can be having children, becoming ill and even aging, as the drivers behind changing to a healthier nutritional behavior pattern.

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