Have Omega-3 Functional Foods Run out of Steam? GOED Says ‘No’

Looking at recent industry headlines, one might conclude that functional food and beverage products containing omega-3 fatty acids have little hope of achieving the global sales potential once forecasted for them. 


In an August 2008 editorial titled “End of the line for omega-3?,” New Nutrition Business wrote: “In 2008 we can see that it’s the end of the line for the dream that omega-3 fortified products can be big in Europe, and almost certainly it’s the end of the line in the U.S., too.” Nutraingredients-usa.com took up the issue on Aug. 25 in an article titled “Omega-3 reality check.” In the piece, the publication noted: “The market predictions for omega-3 products are endlessly buoyant, but a closer look at the state of play reveals very few omega-3 functional foods and beverages have moved beyond niche sales levels.”

Adam Ismail, executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), remains more optimistic, however. “The original analysis that said the omega-3 functional food market is in trouble was based on sales of [PepsiCo’s] Tropicana Healthy Heart orange juice and on two products in the United Kingdom [Muller’s Vitality yogurt and Unilever’s Pro.activ cholesterol-lowering dairy drink] that had the omega-3s pulled from them,” Ismail explained. “People are saying that the Tropicana product has not gone beyond niche market status and that it is a good example of why [these products] can never be very big. The problem is, Tropicana has a line with dozens of different juices in it, and it doesn’t launch one product expecting it to become the leading product in its portfolio. Also, the company did publicly state that it wanted to bring the sales of its Healthy Heart orange juice back to a growth trajectory, and adding omega-3s did that. It got sales back up to peak levels, and sales continue to grow today.” Regarding Unilever, the company is currently running for a seat on the GOED board, Ismail said. “That doesn’t signal the company has any dying faith in the omega-3 space.”

Beyond these products, Ismail said development of omega-3 fortified foods and beverages has only heated up in 2008. “We’ve been looking at the data, and there have been two to three new [omega-3] product launches a week on average in the United States on the food side,” Ismail said. “Product development has been growing pretty strongly over the last three or four years, but this is the highest the level has ever been.” One high-profile new product is Kellogg’s Live Bright Brain Health Bars, which debuted earlier this month and contain 100 mg of Martek’s patented, vegetarian lifeDHA ingredient per 4.9-ounce bar. The products are currently available only via Amazon.com, but Kellogg’s apparently plans to begin selling them at major retail locations in the future. “This is a pretty significant development,” Ismail said. “The product tastes very good, and the price is pretty reasonable.” The Kellogg’s bars cost about $16 for four boxes (with each containing four 4.9-ounce bars).

Nutrition Business Journal takes an in-depth look at the U.S. functional food and beverage market as part of our annual Healthy Foods issue, which publishes later this month. To order your copy or subscribe to NBJ, go to www.nutritionbusinessjournal.com.

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