Combo products, better appreciation of science helping to drive omega-3s market, expert says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

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Getty Images
The omega-3s market is flourishing, with new combination products driving the growth and a newfound appreciation of the science among consumers and healthcare professionals, an expert says.

Adam Ismail, chief strategy officer of the KD Pharma Group, is uniquely positioned to take the pulse of this marketplace. He was the first director of the Global Organization of EPA and DHA Omega 3s, and held that position for more than a decade. 

With KD Pharma, Ismail helps to manage new product development. The KD Pharma Group is the name the corporate parent has given to all of the company’s nutrition assets, which includes those of Marine Ingredients, which merged with KD Pharma in 2016​.

The merger created the world’s third largest omega-3s supplier. Along with the team up came Marine’s interests in Bering Select, a cod liver oil refined at a facility in Alaska, and Innovagel, a Florida-based contract manufacturer.

Navigating troubled waters

Ismail was at the helm of GOED when the global industry ran into a soft patch starting about 2013-2014​, following the publication of some highly publicized equivocal to negative meta analysis of the effects of omega-3s.

Ismail led the raising of funds within the industry to underwrite an advertising campaign known as Always Omega 3 that is generally thought to have reversed the trend and returned the market to growth. He said at the time the industry may have gotten caught resting on its laurels, and had not invested in the sort of get-the-word-out, name-recognition, category-building kind of advertising common in other sectors of consumer packaged goods industry.  If people haven’t heard about in you a while, they tend to forget when it’s time to buy another bottle of product, or so the thinking goes.

More sophistication about the science

But Ismail said the public and main stream media perception of the value of the ingredients has changed over the years, too.  There is a bit more sophistication when it comes to discussing what the studies actually mean.

“On the science side, I’ve seen that there is more skepticism when a study comes out that makes a blanket statement about the effectiveness of omega-3s,”​ Ismail said.

As an example of that trend, Ismail offered up what happened after a New England Journal of Medicine​ negative study on omega-3s as an adjunct therapy of dry eye syndrome​.  Ismail said opthamologists were quick to respond that the study design used omega-3s in a way that few of them did in their practices.  The researchers studied a group with advanced conditions, whereas the opthamologists were more prone to recommend omega-3s supplementation at the first sign of symptoms or as a prophylactic measure in advance of any symptoms, he said.

“Opthamologists said the study did not represent a true clinical environment,”​ Ismail said. “Late state dry eye disease is not the time with they would start using omega 3s.”

And among mainstream reporters, Ismail said he has seen a trend to dive deeper into the data on which conclusions are based rather than take a press release headline for granted, though that can still happen.

Move to higher concentrates

On the retail side, Ismail said there is a continued move in the market toward higher concentrations, reflecting a deeper understanding of teh science behind the ingredients and an increased sophistication among production managers at the major retailers. One striking development along these lines is what happened at the nation’s biggest brick and mortar chain.

“Walmart has completely revamped their omega-3s shelf. Their minimum product now provides 500 mg of EPA and DHA per serving, whereas before it might have had 280 mg or 300 mg.  And they have managed to do it without pushing up the price.  Just that step alone is dramatically changing intakes,”​ Ismail said.

Combo products lead the way

And in product development, there is a move toward more combination products, Ismail said.  This is not only because of differentiation, but because more is known about the pharmacology of the ingredients, meaning a more cogent case can be made for potential synergistic effects.

Ismail said KD Pharma is developing a combination omega-3s product with eggshell membrane for joint health.

“We’ve found that the two work really well together,”​ Ismail said.

Other examples he gave were omega-3s formulated with curcumin ingredients or with vitamin K2.  But the really transformative combination opportunity, both in terms of health and in terms of sales, revolves around the endocannabinoid system, and using CBD in combination with omega-3s, he said.

“Omega-3s have already been shown to affect the endocannabinoid system.The science is still developing there,”​ he said.

Omega-3s webinar

For more on the omega-3s category, mark your calendars for NutraIngredients-USA’s Omega-3s Webinar scheduled for June 29th​. More information on speakers and registration will be available shortly.

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