Mintel insights: Navigating the future of omega-3 fatty acids

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages -  Omega-3 / Banusevim
GettyImages - Omega-3 / Banusevim

Related tags omega 3 EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acid Mintel Consumer trends

“We need to find alternative sources of omega-3… we need to change our approach across the globe” Rick Miller associate director for specialised nutrition at Mintel told an audience at Food Ingredients Europe (FiE) last month.

As he noted, the myriad of health benefits associated with omega-3, including its role in coronary heart disease​, mental health​, infant development​, oral health​, and even blood pressure regulation​, is well established.  

And while new omega-3 product launches in Europe are reportedly low in comparison to those in Asia and America, he explained that it is not a market that is slowing down in terms of consumer appetite: “Despite the slower pace of new launches in Europe, consumer interest is growing, particularly in functional food and drinks.”

“Mintel’s consumer research has shown that around 30% of consumers report consuming functional food and drink that contain omega-3 fatty acids.

“So not only is global demand growing, but consumers are telling us that they're actually consuming these products.”

Supply concerns 

As global demand for omega-3 rises, concerns about scarcity and overfishing have taken centre stage, Miller explained. 

“The main industry insecurity stems from issues with our desire to overfish the species that give us loads of omega-3, as omega-3 fatty acids typically come from marine sources.

“Additionally, due to climate change and the warming of sea temperatures, there might now be a drop in the naturally occurring levels of algae, when it comes to plant-based omega-3. 

“However, there are some naturally occurring plant-based sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is sometimes coined the omega-3 of plants, and things like chia, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds are all potential sources.”

Miller noted however that this isn’t a straightforward solution, as “the big problem is that the conversion of ALA is limited by enzyme Delta‐6 desaturase (D6D). 

“The problem is that if I was to genetically screen each one of you, you would probably all have different levels of this enzyme in your body. That means you will need different levels of omega-3, and this is another confounding factor that we have to accommodate for, and as an industry we see suppliers are trying design solutions.” 

Innovation in the field​ 

The future of omega-3 fatty acids involves addressing sustainability concerns, embracing innovative technologies, and personalising approaches to meet individual needs, Miller asserted.

He drew attention to the startup Örlö​, the Icelandic company offering plant-based omega-3, using “99% less land and water in crops than other producers.”

Their carbon-negative, high-tech vertical farming methods produce microalgae for use in gel tablets for “three times better absorption of nutrients. 

And looking to future alternatives, Miller referenced the ongoing research being conducted by Rothamsted Research Institute and the University of Southampton​ on oil from GM Camelina sativa​ plant (one of Europe’s oldest oil seed crops) and its suitability for replacement of oily fish in the human diet.

He noted that while there isn’t yet a product on the market, human trials have shown it to be safe for consumption, offering the promise of a truly sustainable omega-3 source.

He also noted that there are exciting things to come for the industry with Australia’s BiomeMega probiotic-derived Omega-3, which is due to launch its first commercial product by 2027​ assuming the firm passes regulatory requirements.

The company uses precision fermentation and AI to customise outcomes, such as how much nutrients go into the fermentation at a particular stage of bacterial growth, the purpose of which is to improve the nutritional value and bioavailability of Omega-3. 

And in the world of personalisation, he referenced the work of US-based company Parasol Nutrition for its personalised omega-3 program, which involves blood tests to determine specific doses needed of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Miller concluded: “I think where consumers are going to get the most benefit from taking omega-3 is by making sure that it's targeted to their exact person.”

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