Omega-3s: the Swiss-Army-Knife ingredient

Omega-3s house health applications so broad — cardio, mental, vision, joint, weight, builds strong bodies in eight ways — that Martek's brand is called "life'sDHA." The diverse supply is derived from both marine and botanical sources, including recent entrants Arctic krill and chia. It adds up to finished-product options that range from soft-gel supplements to frozen waffles. The wind is clearly at the back of the sector. What's ahead?

One trend to note is that amid the battles for fish oil vs flax superiority, DHA specifically is gaining ascendancy. "The DHA group is making inroads into the EPA/DHA fish-oils group," asserts Kelley Fitzpatrick, president of NutriTech Consulting. "The messaging around DHA for children is easier for consumers to understand."

The DHA story is part of manufacturer market differentiation efforts, says Ian Newton, managing director of Ceres Consulting. "Marketers are starting to niche the market by putting high ratios of DHA for the brain and add a bit of EPA," says Newton. "They don't know for sure how much to put in, but at least it differentiates itself in the market with different ratios of EPA and DHA, and concentrates vs nonconcentrates."

The trade group Global Organization for EPA and DHA (GOED) sees 2009 as the year the FDA decides on its petition for an upgrade of the heart-health claim from a qualified claim to a fully authorized health claim. If approved, it would both make marketing copy easier for consumers to digest and would mandate minimum levels, which would also serve consumers. And bona fide health claims have a history of making markets skyrocket.

"We're not sure where the omega-3 game will spin out," says Fitzpatrick. "The category will continue its rise based on good science."

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