Omega-3 booms but hurdles remain

Market analyst Frost & Sullivan reports a booming omega-3 ingredients market, valued at more than $700 million, but warns the sector must continue to educate and innovate if it is to maintain its robust expansion.

"With some participants experiencing growth rates of greater than 20 per cent in 2005 and consumer awareness improving every year, the omega-3 fatty acid ingredient market looks very promising," Frost states. "Food manufacturers find the omega-3 mandate especially attractive since several studies have highlighted the omega-3 deficit in the diets of the majority of consumers, and the need to correct this deficit. This gives added credibility to the message of omega-3 fortification."

Formulation breakthroughs have seen omega-3 fortified foods branch out into bakery, dairy, spreads, sports products and infant formulas. In addition, the widespread appeal of the omega-3 message has prompted manufacturers of natural source omega-3 foods such as fish to trumpet fatty acid content in their marketing efforts.

Yet despite this rosy scenario, potential hurdles exist if the ingredient with cardiovascular, joint, brain, eyesight and other health benefits is to fulfil its potential. Frost notes:

  • Ingrained misconceptions regarding fats continue to cloud consumer perception of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Market held back by lack of omega-3 fatty acids recommended dietary intake (RDI) standard.
  • Consumer awareness of varying kinds of fatty acids is very poor. Few understand the difference between omega-3 and omega-6, and between varying omega-3 forms such as alphalinolenic acid (ALA), docosahexenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). (The exception being Japan, where marketing reflects the fact a high percentage of consumers understand DHA to be the beneficial component of omega-3 fatty acids.)
  • Omega-3-fortified products often cost more to produce than standard non-fortified products and consumers often end up bearing the brunt of these input costs.
  • Efficacy issues must be balanced with taste, smell and mouth feel of product.

"Instability problems, fishy tastes or odours, and problems related to using an oil ingredient in processing are examples of factors still impacting growth of the market," Frost observes. "Regaining the confidence of end-users that have had bad experiences in the past will continue to be a challenge to the industry. Food manufacturers will need to craft innovative marketing strategies that harness the strengths of the omega-3 story."

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