The company claims to hold 60 percent of the North American market for omega-3 as an ingredient for dietary supplements, and 70 percent of the omega-3 food ingredient market. In 2007, the firm saw supplement ingredient sales grow by around 35 percent, according to Ian Lucas, Ocean Nutrition executive vice president of marketing and strategic planning. The food ingredient business still remains relatively small, but it is quickly picking up as consumers become more aware of the benefits of omega-3 and start to actively seek out food and beverage products containing the healthy lipid, he told NutraIngredients-USA.com. "Our technology has allowed us to put omega-3 into so many different applications. You get a whole variety of foods. It's becoming mainstream, we're getting national distribution with major brands," he said. Benefits and challenges Omega-3 has been increasingly linked to a wide range of health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and certain cancers, joint health, and improved behavior and moods. Fish oil is considered to be the best source of omega-3, but is notoriously difficult to incorporate into formulations since it is highly susceptible to oxidation. The result is a fishy taste and smell which can be off-putting for consumers. In order to help people consume omega-3 in their diet - and especially those who have an aversion to fish - formulators have sought to overcome the stability issues and deliver food products that are untainted by sensory issues. Meg-3 Ocean Nutrition says that the main reason behind its success is its patented Powder-loc micro-encapsulation technology. This protects the oil within a multi-shell inner matrix, with a protective outer shell surrounding it. It is said, therefore, to create 'double protection' for the oil from both oxidation and the stress of food processing. The technology also allows the ingredient to withstand high temperatures and pasteurization processes. The company said that over 95 percent of its omega-3 food ingredient sales use the Powder-loc technology. Ocean Nutrition's branded Meg-3 omega-3 contains both DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (or eicosapentaenoic acid). Studies have linked an adequate consumption of DHA to the promotion of brain, eye and heart health, while EPA has been linked to anti-inflammatory benefits. The firm is working on creating brand awareness for its Meg-3, which is marked by a consumer-friendly eye-catching fish logo that can be used on the labeling of packaged products containing the ingredient. Diversity According to Lucas, there have been over 30 different food applications launched with its ingredient. These include dairy, confectionery and baked goods, in shelf-stable, chilled and frozen forms. The company has scored agreements for use of its ingredient with the likes of Danone, Minute Maid, Tropicana and Stonyfield. At the recent Expo West trade show in Anaheim, California, Ocean Nutrition's stand featured different well-known brands in rotation as a way to raise awareness of the popularity and flexibility of its branded ingredient. Lucas hopes the omega-3 trend will grow to become a movement similar to that of organics - whereby consumers begin specifically looking for these types of symbols on their packaged goods. "People now have choices to eat a variety of omega-3 foods everyday," said Lucas. "They can go into the grocery store and buy a whole range of omega-3 products." There is virtually no risk of over-dosing on the omega-3 found in such products, said Lucas, even if you were to eat numerous different kinds. He explained that most of these products contain 50mg of DHA/EPA, while most guidelines call for a minimum of 500mg of DHA/EPA per day. Popularity of omega-3According to market researcher Packaged Facts omega-3 enriched foods make up the strongest sector of the functional foods market in the US - and there is still room there for significant growth. The market for these goods has grown from approximately $100m to more than $2bn in four years. The firm predicts this category will reach $7bn in sales by 2011. According to Mintel, more than 1,000 products were launched worldwide in 2006 containing omega-3, with the biggest sectors coming from dairy, bakery and processed meats and fish. In the past five years more than 3,000 omega-3 products have been launched worldwide, although the majority of these have been in Europe.