The yuck factor? US survey reveals consumer demand for omega-3s... minus the fish

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fish oil, Omega-3 fatty acid, Krill oil, Krill

Fish: Great source of omega-3s, but a hard sell for some consumers
Fish: Great source of omega-3s, but a hard sell for some consumers
Nearly four out of 10 (37%) US supplement users say they would rather take something other than fish oil as an omega-3 supplement, according to a new survey.

The survey, conducted by Discovery Research Group earlier this month in partnership with krill oil supplier Aker BioMarine Antarctic, US, involved 705 US consumers who take a multi-vitamin or other nutritional supplement and indicated an interest in health, wellness and fitness.

When asked, 'Do you consider yourself someone who wants to take or currently takes an omega‐3 supplement, but would rather take something other than fish oil as an omega‐3 supplement?', 37% of respondents said 'yes'.

When asked why they did not want to take fish oil, the most common reasons given were: bad taste, bad aftertaste, fishy burps, bad smell, and large capsule size.

Krill is adding incremental growth to omega-3 market, not cannibalizing fish oil sales

Eric Anderson, VP Sales and Marketing at Aker BioMarine Antarctic US, told NutraIngredients-USA that the results "made a very strong case for krill oil​", although he acknowledged that algal omega-3 suppliers would also draw encouragement from the findings. 

He added: "Our customers’ focus groups reported many users of krill had abandoned fish oil due to dislikes with it, while the compliance and user experience with krill supplements is excellent. So we ran the survey to see how many folks want omega-3s but not fish.

"The takeaway for me is that Krill is building the omega-3 market, NOT cannibalizing fish oil. So if retailers don’t have alternatives, and krill clearly is a good one, they are essentially turning away 40% of their potential sales!”

70% growth for krill oil sales in 2011 vs 6% for fish oil

He added: “While we are big fans of fish oil, this survey confirms what we have heard anecdotally from our customers and consumers.

“Clearly there is a market for consumers who want omega 3 supplements to increase these essential fatty acids in the diet but do not want fish oil. With 70% growth in Krill Oil in 2011, compared to 6% growth in fish oil supplements, krill is delivering on an unmet need in the market.

“What we see is that Krill supplements are expanding the omega-3 category.”

He added: “Also, consumers are beginning to understand the differences in the highly bio-efficient phospholipid-bound omega-3s from krill vs. triglyceride based omega-3s which are provided in algae, fish and other marine oils.”

But krill oil players still had a lot more work to do to educate consumers, he acknowledged, given that the 'yuck' factor of fish rather than an awareness of how it is different to krill or other omega-3 sources was driving the desire for alternatives.

"The market is 10 years old and this is a fundamental issue," ​he said.

The growth of ‘fishless fish oil’

Martek (now owned by DSM) has also reported strong demand from food and beverage customers and supplement makers for its new algal EPA/DHA blend dubbed the ‘fishless fish oil’.

The product, which is gaining momentum in the US market with recent launches including Schiff’s MegaRed Plant-Omega supplements and Darigold Omega-3 2% milk, offers consumers a vegetarian alternative to fish oil with heart, brain and eye benefits.

Derived from a different species of the microalgae Martek uses to produce its life’sDHA brand, the oil contains half as much EPA as DHA, giving it a fatty acid profile similar to many fish oils.

The oil, which is self-affirmed GRAS, also got an initial thumbs up from EU regulators late last year.

Why are consumers buying omega-3 supplements?

Just under half (48%) of consumers surveyed by Discovery/Aker took an omega-3 supplement, and of this group, 64% cited the reason as general health, followed by heart health at 58%, brain/cognitive health at 27%, joint health at 26%, and healthy skin at 17% (respondents could select more than one option).

Most omega-3 supplement users said they took fish oil (80%) followed by flax seed oil at 17% and krill oil at 7% (respondents could select more than one option). Aker has not revealed whether they were asked about algal omega-3 supplements.

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