In April this year, the European Commission authorised the use of lipid extract from Antarctic Krill as as a food ingredient in food supplements.
The ruling now allows a maximum concentration of 3 g per day for the general population and 450 mg per day for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
One of the first to announce its intentions to market krill as a novel food ingredient was Norwegian omega-3 biotech company Aker Biomarine.
In launching its first krill oil concentrate at the industry event Vitafoods last week, Aker Biomarine said it was now able to squeeze more phospholipids and omega-3s into a capsule than ever before.
As a result, the product - Superba Boost Caps - qualifies for four EU-authorised EPA & DHA heart health claims.
Boosted choline levels means the product can also claim to contribute to the maintenance of normal liver function, lipid metabolism and homocysteine metabolism.
Aker Biomarine CEO Matts Johansen said the ability to extend use levels would open up market opportunities for the business and its customers, fully backed by EU health legislation.
“In the past, companies were reluctant to launch a product due to a difficult regulatory environment,” he explained.
“It used to be that krill-specific EFSA claims didn’t exist. Claims at the time were shared with fish oil. This then raised the question as to why consumers didn’t just purchase fish oil as it was cheaper. The consumers could still receive the health benefits at a lower cost.”
“So now we have krill oil claims and I believe this will drive a big change for Europe not just because of these claims but for innovation. Every category needs new products to keep the wheels turning."
EU omega-3 market gone soft?
Johansen said he thought the European omega-3 market had become ‘soft’ in the last couple of years.
He said this had had a detrimental effect on innovation, saying krill oil products on the market had essentially been the same for almost ten years.
“The krill oil market was really booming from 2009 to 2013, growing 50% to 60% each year. In that situation you get spoiled. You don’t innovate. It was a similar situation in the fish-oil market, where not much was happening.”
The Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega 3s (GOED) forecasted a return to form for the omega-3 market.
“Europe saw strong growth in supplements in 2013, despite being a more mature omega-3 market,” it said, “driven by key sectors like krill oils and cod liver oils.”
“The total volume of omega-3 oils sold in Europe in 2013 was up 5% from 2012 and the total value was up 8% from 2012. From a raw material sources point of view, krill oil was the fastest growing segment in percentage terms, by more than four times the next fastest segment.”
'Currently in Europe krill oil is not a big success'
However, not everybody agreed the authorisation would bring change. One such naysayer was Dr Itay Shafat, senior scientist for nutrition R&D at Enzymotec, a manufacturer of high-grade krill oil.
“I don’t think it changes anything,” he said. "Currently in Europe krill oil is not a big success. Can it be a success in Europe? Possibly. The difference is in Europe everything relates to EFSA-proven claims.”
Shafat said a supplement like krill oil exhibits features that are superior to fish oil.
Krill oil has a higher level of phospholipids, for example, which means it has a better leach absorption and subsequently better bioavailability when compared to fish oils. However, one thing krill oil is not as good when compared to fish oil is the concentration of omega-3.
“EFSA, amongst other agencies, are concerned with counting omega-3s. So, if for 1 g of krill oil you’re getting 160 mg of omega 3, you cannot make any health claims with this value.”
"In Europe, you’re going to need at least 250 mg of omega-3 to say it may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. That means a capsule of 1.5-2 g of krill oil. Consumers don’t like that. They want to take just one or two capsules a day and no more than that.”
One aspect both Johansen and Shafat agree on however was the efforts needed to educate the market on krill oil and its benefits. Both firmly believe a lack of information for the consumer has been central to krill oil’s struggle to gain a firm foothold in Europe.
“There are several reasons why krill oil hasn’t taken off in Europe,” explained Johansen. “You need a powerful brand to educate the market. In the US, it’s MegaRed. In Europe, the market is more fragmented and you don’t have those big brands to really drive krill oil education in the same way.”
Shafat agrees that MegaRed educated the market. “They spent a lot of money... and, as a result, are the biggest brand in the US," he said.
“No one in the European market knows about krill oil because no one is willing spend a lot of money to educate the market, I don’t see krill growing in popularity. It will grow slowly over the years but not to a great extent."
In March, 2014 MegaRed made its first venture into Europe with the launch of Omega-3 Krill Oil supplements.
The launch was backed by a £5m (€6.5m) spend that included TV advertising, digital support and educational PR, all aimed at informing consumers of the supplement’s heart health benefits.