The patented technology, described as "an emulsion-based microencapsulation technology that allows… EPA and DHA molecules to be incorporated into foods at very high levels". It was developed by scientists at the Riddet Centre at Massey University and is being commercialised through a new company called Speirs Nutritionals, a joint venture between the centre, Massey University, Speirs Food, and the Bio Commerce Centre of Manawatu.
According to the company, the technology, said not taint the food with a fishy taste or smell, allows for the total recommended dose of omega-3 to be used in just one food serving.
The new company will produce and sell the emulsions itself to consumer food product manufacturers in New Zealand, Australia and Asia. For the European and US markets it is seeking licensing partners to both manufacture and sell the ingredient.
The venture may be well received by potential partners, since in the past year there has been a flurry of cooperation between technology providers and fish oil suppliers to make the most of the omega-3 boom. For instance, Puleva Biotech has teamed up with The Wright Group; and Denomega Nutritional Oils with GAT Food Essentials.
As for the source of the fish oil, David Speirs, general manager of Speirs Foods, said: "We are working with New Zealand companies and others to validate the various fish oils. A New Zealand supply would have obvious advantages."
Speirs told NutraIngredients.com that the precise levels depend on the product, but recent applications include 720mg of DHA and EPA in a 60g serving of muesli bars, 960mg in 80g of muffin, 1200mg in 100g of hummus, 900mg in 150g of ice cream, and 240mg in 80g of bread.
Scientific evidence is support of omega-3 fatty acids' role in heart health has taken huge leaps forward over the last few years - yet most people in the Western world do not glean sufficient quantities from their every day diets.
In some markets guidance has been issued: for instance, in the UK the Joint Health Claims Initiative has approved a claim that consumption of 3g a week or 0.45g a day of polyunsaturated long chain fatty acids as part of a healthy lifestyle can help maintain heart health.
Until relatively recently, however, incorporating omega-3 into food products posed a headache for formulators since it is notoriously unstable. An undesirable taste and smell is generated when it is oxidated.
The development of various microencapsulation technologies, whereby the oil is protected within very small capsules, has changed this. Several other companies have introduced their technology to the market, each communicating a perceived advantages over their competitors' offerings.
For instance, Ocean Nutrition Canada says that its Powder-loc double microencapsulation system gives the oil and extra layer of protection; and The Wright Group says its technology can be incorporated into premixes; and Firmenich has drawn lines of association between its Duralife Omega3 and one of its core concerns - taste.
In terms of dosage levels, Speirs said: "We can't precisely say what other companies are capable of delivering". But he added that in the product applications the developers have worked on to date, they are "certain there aren't any products currently available to consumers with similar loads."
For confidentiality reasons Speirs was not able to reveal the financial contribution that each of the joint venture partners has brought to the plate. But NZ$2.7m (c €1.4m) is being invested by Speirs Nutritionals in a new manufacturing facility in Marton in the Manawatu-Rangitikei region.
The facility will be managed on a day-to-day basis by Speirs Food, whose main area of activity is in the supply of salads and fresh cut vegetables.
Nelson Speirs, executive chairman of the Speirs Group, said: "Speirs Foods will derive substantial benefit from its involvement in a new joint venture that will enjoy a clear position of technological advantage in the rapidly growing world market for functional foods and dietary supplements.
"This development is one of a number of strategic initiatives we are taking to achieve sustainable, profitable growth in our business."