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Huge demand for omega-3 liquid products driving delivery innovations: Virun CEO

By Stephen DANIELLS , 20-Mar-2014
Last updated the 09-Apr-2014 at 16:22 GMT

“We constantly get requests to do what seems to be impossible
“We constantly get requests to do what seems to be impossible" - Philip Bromley, CEO of Virun

Consumers like the delivery of omega-3 fatty acids in a liquid, and many innovative products are already on shelves, but what technology is being used, what are the challenges, and where are the next opportunities coming from?

California-based Virun has multiple patents and pending patents in the field of omega-3 delivery in liquids, and Philip Bromley, the company’s CEO and recent recipient of the Personality of the Year 2013 award from our sister publication BeverageDaily.com, told NutraIngredients-USA that there is huge demand for liquids with omega-3s.

“Virun with its partners have completed a DHA omega-3 beverage for brain health, the infamous and well-anticipated Change Cola, a sports drink with EPA and DHA omega-3 and we have joint-ventures with formulation and beverage businesses world-wide that are releasing and working on their versions of omega-3 EPA and DHA functional water products,” he said.

“Not to mention, the other liquid applications such as smoothie omega-3 EPA and DHA products where Virun has worked on at least 5 in the past few months of which are now on shelves.” 

Bromley added that other applications utilizing omega-3 EPA and DHA include Virun’s high load omega-3 DHA water soluble powders (150mg per gram) which are shelf-stable for at least one year utilizing the similar bicarbonate processes and compositions.  These have been incorporated into stick-packs and bulk powder blends.

“These powder applications are becoming more in demand than the beverages themselves, primarily in the supplement and MLM industries,” he said.

A lot of potential

Adam Ismail, executive director of the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED) told us that, while encapsulations for liquids is still a small portion of the market, it is one with a lot of potential. 

“The big advantage of this type of technology is that it can deliver meaningful dosages of EPA and DHA into liquid formats, so it could lead to a lot of innovation in multiple formats (shots, nutrition drinks in formats like energy drinks, etc.),” he said.

“However, the challenge will be convincing consumers who are attuned to taking pills or eating seafood to look for a substantial dosage in a non-traditional format.  It may take some time, but in my unscientific polling, when consumers I have spoken with understand it they seem to like the format.”

IP

Several companies are offering omega-3 encapsulation technologies, said Bromley. For example, Ingredion produces a modified food starch that is GRAS for beverages, he said, while TIC Gums has a modified gum acacia. Virun has several pertinent patents and patents pending that allow the delivery and stability of omega-3 EPA DHA or DHA into foods or beverages. 

There are two main challenges in this area, he said. First is emulsion stability, which is an issue for beverages, and the second is flavor stability, which is an issue for all applications.

For emulsion stability, Bromley said that the technology or IP used depends on the particular application.

“In one embodiment, Virun utilizes its GRAS sucrose fatty acid (SFA) which is a sucrose molecule esterified to a fatty acid such as palmitic acid, similar to producing vitamin A palmitate,” he explained.  “The SFA is added to water and then the omega-3 oil is emulsified into the water/SFA complex.  This produces a micelle of the omega-3 EPA and DHA allowing the omega-3 EPA and DHA to easily dissolve into water or food-based application, for example a smoothie. 

“Alternatively and more specific toward clear-type beverage applications, Virun utilizes its vitamin E derivative technologies (Esolv) producing analogues of Vitamin E TPGS.  Esolv is a natural or synthetic tocopherol or tocopheryl (“ol” or “yl” depending if natural sourced Vitamin E is requested) that is bound to a Succinate modified surfactant.  Virun has several patents and patents-pending compositions that produce a novel and unique mono and diester (Bis) moiety of this form of vitamin E where the Tocopherol/yl is more balanced on each side chain of the intermediary vitamin E TPGS molecule.  This balanced side chain produces smaller particle size once conjugated with omega-3 EPA and DHA and polar solvent. 

“In either case, SFA or these vitamin E derivatives, in both instances, the emulsion stability is obtained by utilizing these two compositions that allow ease of dispersion into almost any application through micellization.” 

Flavor

The company’s technology also addressed the flavor issue to ensure EPA and DHA maintain a good flavor profile for at least one year, said Bromley.

“Once the omega-3 is made in a solubilized form, Virun utilizes a patent pending process that injects the aqueous phase with bicarbonate and/or carbonate to chelate residual iron and also displace oxygen from water prior to adding the omega-3,” he explained.

“Once the EPA and/or DHA is added to the beverage, carbonation or nitrogen is added to the beverage to create an oxygen free environment.  The combination of no residual metals or iron in the product in addition to the lack of oxygen to catalyze omega-3’s volatility, the end application is stable, free of fish-flavor and maintains EPA and DHA concentrations over time.” 

He stressed that the end product is only as good as the ingredients used initially, and that if the fish oil is fishy to begin with, the end product will likely be fishy too, so it is important to start with a very clean source of oil to assure long term stability. 

“There have been so many instances where companies have sent us their oil and thought Virun can remove the fish taste in their oil – typically we refer them to POS Biosciences in Canada for that.  However, Virun’s patented and patents pending technologies can assure that if the oil is good on day one, it will be good at least 365 days later.”

What’s next?

The current technology is performing very well in the marketplace, but Bromley said that new challenges are always being brought to Virun by its partners, clients and customers.

“We never thought that we could achieve an omega-3 DHA powder that was water soluble and contained 150mg per gram powder all-the-while shelf stable for at least one year,” he said. “Anything is possible, it’s all about being persistent and open-minded. 

“We constantly get requests to do what seems to be impossible,” he said. “For example, let’s say we want to produce a 250mg DHA EPA per 1,000mg water, meaning delivering 250mg EPA and DHA in a 1 gram serving size. This is tough because the current omega-3 DHA and EPA oils that have great flavor are typically 250-350mg DHA or EPA and DHA per gram oil.  So, the starting oil itself already is at this concentration. 

“I think a lot of applications and ways to push-the-envelope are dependent on the omega-3 oil raw materials themselves and the technologies used to produce these oils,” he added. “If we could get an 80% EPA and/or DHA oil that tasted like the typical food grade 250mg/gram EPA and DHA oils, this would be a huge game-changer. 

“Another challenge that Virun’s R&D currently are researching are delivering excellent source omega-3 EPA and DHA in a flavored liquid concentrate, similar to a “MIO Liquid Water Enhancer.”  Serving size of such a liquid enhancer is about 2ml, so this would require using a high concentrate omega-3 EPA and/or DHA oil in addition to a strong antioxidant system within the remainder composition.  If this can be done, next would be trying to get 1,000mg EPA and DHA in a 500ml serving, now that is a challenge for the future!”

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