While there are no official figures for the value of the krill supply for human use, it is estimated to be around $100m, and growing at around 20% per annum.
Packaged Facts, which put the entire omega-3 finished food, drink and supplement products market at about $8bn and growing at 17% said krill, “will be an important player in coming years within the supplements segment as more scientific studies support the health boosting properties of krill”.
Krill sales are often at premiums over other omega-3 forms with prices rising as high as $160/kg.
Mickey Schuett, the director of sales at Colorado-based Azantis, said his company’s growth figures were robust for the sector.
“Krill is starting to make inroads into the omega-3 market and if the figures I have are accurate it will account for about 5-10% of the market within the next 3-5 years,” he said, estimates backed up by other krill suppliers and the omega-3 trade group, GOED.
Wael Massrieh, PhD, R&D director at Neptune Technologies & Bioressources in Canada, estimated the 500m metric tonne market could triple in 3-5 years, but he noted the education campaign required to drive ongoing krill development.
“Although omega-3 awareness is quite high there is still a lot of work to be done in educating consumers about the two other main bioactives in krill oil which are the phospholipids and esterified astaxanthin,” he said.
“Distributors also need to be educated about these bioactives and should be more concerned with stability indexes that are accepted by the entire industry and not stability indexes that are adopted by manufacturers.”
Matts Johansen, executive vice president in sales and marketing at Norwegian player Aker Biomarine, said relatively low public awareness only highlighted the potential in the category for further expansion.
“We know that consumer recognition for krill oil in North America is less than 10%, and even lower in other markets,” he said.
“So there is still a big space for further growth. Yet one krill oil supplement is the number one selling omega-3 SKU (stock keeping unit) in the US today. Consumers appreciate the bio-efficiency and tolerability of krill resulting in a smaller, easier to swallow dose.”
The phospholipid/astaxanthin angle is an important one as it offers something unique to krill compared to other omega-3 sources, although clinical data is far from prolific for krill despite all the major suppliers investing in ongoing trials in addition to academic work going on independently.
Massrieh said more research was occurring in areas such as inflammation and observed, “there are still an array of possible health benefits of krill oil that have not been investigated yet.”
Demonstrating the mechanism of action in krill formulations was another focus area.
“Showing that krill works with the phospholipids carrying the omega's and how that makes a difference is very important,” said Schuett.
Johansen emphasised conducting studies using market-available formulations and said his company had, “numerous studies published and several underway to continue to establish benefits in CV, blood lipids, mental acuity, inflammation and joint health”.
All three companies said fake or inferior quality krill was a problem that continues to blight the industry.
“Certainly product that contain little or no krill phospholipids should not cite krill science, nor should they be called krill,” Johansen said.
Massrieh added: “Monitoring and penalising companies with false claims and adulterated products need to be improved. Krill oils that are not 100% pure krill oil should clearly indicate so on their labels and marketing material.”
Schuett noted: “What the krill industry is doing better is that we are coming together to form a monograph on what krill oil really is.”
Sustainability questions about the krill fishery in the Antarctic which had led to the US-based retail chain Whole Foods in 2009 removing krill supplements from its shelves remained, but the suppliers pointed to the record, the support of bodies like the World Wildlife Fund, and ongoing programs of transparency.
“Groups like CCAMLR (Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) and WWF make sure the health of the biomass, the impact on other species in the area in which krill are harvested and the impact on the ecosystem is closely measured and monitored,” said Johansen.
“It is to everyone’s benefit to ensure that the krill fishery is conducted in an sustainable manner – no one wants uncontrolled growth.”
Massrieh agreed the fishery was well-controlled but said the issue was unlikely to go away.
“There will always be ‘pro-environmentalists’ and protectors of the planet waging battles which actually in many cases are justified to ensure a better environment to live in, but in cases such as Krill oil, which has recently been described as the most underexploited biomass in the world, these battles do more harm than good.”
Schuett expressed industry-wide frustration in regard to the ongoing Whole Foods band when he said, “I feel that Whole Foods still does not understand the sustainability issue and wish that they would sit down with me and get the real story.”
But repeated efforts to meet with the retailer had to date been fruitless.