Consuming omega-3 as a means of improving heart health as well as other areas of health and wellness has become an increasingly prevalent practice in Europe. However, several issues still inhibit manufacturers of products that contain these fatty oils. Without a firm understanding of these issues, industry players run the risk of failing to capitalise on existing interest.
In Europe, the growth of products claiming to be ‘high in omega-3’ has been significant, far surpassing that of the US.
According to Datamonitor’s Product Launch Analytics database, there were 47 such launches across the continent in 2004. By the end of 2008, this figure had more than trebled to 161. By comparison, the respective figures in the US were 136 and 273. This tells us that Americans are more used to omega-3 products than their European counterparts, but also that Europeans are catching up quickly.
Making labels informative
As is the case in the US, the key to capitalising on this apparent consumer interest is making labels as informative and helpful as possible. More than half (52 per cent) of Europeans told Datamonitor in August 2008 that they agreed with the statement “I’m very interested in food label information.” By contrast, only 12 per cent disagreed. These results were very similar to those in the US, indicating similarities in consumer shopping behaviour.
The difficulty that arises from here is that there are different recommendations for omega-3 consumption in Europe, making it difficult for manufacturers to make claims on food labels about meeting targets.
For example, in the UK, the Department of Health recommended that vegetable omega-3 should contribute a minimum of 0.2 per cent of total food energy daily, while Eurodiet has suggested the more easily-quantifiable target of 2g per day.
Lack of omega-3 knowledge
However, cracking the European market is not simply a case of mentioning the ingredient and watching sales increase. Evidence suggests that there is still a significant knowledge shortcoming when it comes to omega-3.
The 2006 Baby Europe Consumer and Health Professional Survey, conducted by GfK NOP, discovered that existing and prospective mothers were not aware of how beneficial DHA omega-3 can be for both themselves and their children. Though 72 per cent of UK women said they were aware of DHA omega-3, only 33 per cent of French women said the same.
What’s more, there was a significant lack of understanding about the particular benefits of consumption. Though omega-3 is good for heart health, joint health and cognitive functioning (among several others), it is only the former than many consumers really appreciate. The same survey found that only 14 per cent of French and German women and 19 per cent of British women associated DHA omega-3 with brain development.
A further study showed that only a fifth of UK midwives, 3 per cent of German midwives and no French midwives were recommending omega-3 fatty acids as an important part of nutritional development for pregnant women and new mothers.
Room for improvement
This illustrates an area where companies can make improvements. The more that positive benefits will be accentuated the more consumers will hear about them in all areas of life, not just on supermarket shelves.
Consumers are not going to proactively seek out information about omega-3. They are only going to respond to it if it comes to them in a plausible and credible way.
Making efforts to ensure that products meet guidelines and then display very visual proof of this is critical in raising awareness and making products seem more appealing than competitors which cannot offer the same.
Without doing so, manufacturers risk losing out on the potential of an ingredient which currently enjoys ‘healthy halo’ status.