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Fish Oil: Drugs vs. SupplementsFish Oil: Drugs vs. Supplements

Sandy Almendarez

April 19, 2013

5 Min Read
Fish Oil: Drugs vs. Supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids are no longer just about fish oil. The development of numerous alternative sources, the improved sustainability and bioavailability of those different forms of omega-3s, plus the competition that arises between supplements and pharmaceuticals make the omega-3 market a challenging one to navigate.

Challenging, yes; but also promising. Omega-3 sales have been steady or climbing in the past few years, and growth is projected for the future. Global omega-3 raw materials revenue in 2011 was US$1.81 billion, according to a Frost & Sullivan market research report commissioned by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), an increase of almost 10 percent from 2010, and a 12-percent growth is expected through 2016.

On a global basis, Ellen Schutt, communications director, GOED, said the three largest markets for omega-3s are infant formula, fortified foods and beverages, and nutritional supplements. "In the United States, supplements remain hugely popular," she said, noting the Baby Boomers are the heaviest users.

Baldur Hjaltason, Sales Director, Epax AS, added the traditional omega-3 users, such as those Boomers, may have reached saturation "The challenge will be to educate the younger consumers about the health benefits of omega-3s," he said.

Fortified foods, think functional drinks and nutrition bars, are the way to target the 20- to 40-year-old group, according to Ernesto Hernandez, Ph.D., director of process development, Omega Protein Corp.

Another way to gain more market share is to increase the concentration of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) a product contains. "GOED is seeing an increase in higher concentrate omega-3 supplement products as consumers learn the importance of higher levels of EPA and DHA and 'trade up' to a product that provides more EPA and DHA per pill," Schutt noted.

Some consumers may go as far as a pharmaceutical for their trade up to a higher omega-3 concentrate. Right now, only three pharmaceuticals are on the market: Omacor/Lovaza worldwide and Epadel in Japan, and all three are indicated for reducing triglycerides. However, many more omega-3 drugs are in the pipeline or on deck; in July 2012, Amarin Corp. received FDA approval for its Vascepa omega-3 drug for high triglycerides, and there are at least 30 other pharmaceuticals or pharmaceutical targets using EPA and/or DHA omega-3s in development.

With pharmaceuticals taking market share, supply may be limited for the increasingly popular higher potency omega-3 supplements, according to Adam Ismail, executive director of GOED. However, he said pharmaceutical omega-3s would not necessarily be a massive strain on raw material supply of lower potency omega-3s.

Still, a poll of INSIDER readers (the majority of respondents were supplement manufacturers/marketers, followed by food/beverage manufacturers/marketers) found 37 percent of respondents agreed that omega-3 pharmaceutical drugs would affect supply. However, 62 percent believe the increasing availability of pharmaceutical-grade EPA/DHA will increase the demand for all fish oil products, including supplements.

"Lovaza/Omacor helped the industry overall by raising awareness and credibility of omega-3s among consumers who are comforted by the fact that a doctor is recommending an omega-3 product," Schutt said. "This will result in an increase of alternative marine sources and new types of omega-3 oils being developed."

Higher potency omega-3 products are also a big market trend. "We are seeing an increased interest in higher omega-3 concentrates from our business-to-business customer base, suggesting that they are formulating products with higher omega-3 levels presumably based on an increased demand for these higher concentrates from their customers," said Steve Dillingham, general manager, GC RIEBER OILS Inc.

Omega-3 drugs, with their high price point and marketing messages, may turn consumers on to the more affordable supplement market. "This is certainly a boon for high omega-3 concentrate supplements readily available without prescription, which are less expensive than typical out-of-pocket costs for the omega-3 prescriptives, typically," Dillingham said.

Wael Massrieh, Ph.D., vice president, scientific affairs, Neptune Technologies & Bioressources Inc., added supplements aren't as restricted in their health claims as pharmaceuticals are, so he said omega-3s still have an edge over drugs. "The indication that Neptune krill oil (NKO®) is taken for is not solely for the reduction of triglycerides," he said. "NKO® has also been shown to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which are the two other important criteria in managing in cardiovascular health. Furthermore, NKO not only provides omega-3s, but is taken because of its two other major components, namely, phospholipids and astaxanthin."

Omega-3s from fish or plant sources are becoming more popular even as doctors are writing prescriptions to similar drugs. The supplement business is surviving by offering sustainable, easy-to-take products with health claims that go beyond the heart.

Prescription omega-3s are helping the supplement industry boost its credibility and popularity.

While heart health is the benefit most liked to omega-3s, more research is mounting to their ability to boost the brain and beyond.

Omega-3 ingredients must be sustainable and fresh when they reach the consumer, or product interest will suffer.

Learn more on how industry views omega-3 product development in the SupplySide Omega-3 Insights " State of Marine-Sourced Omega-3s " by Karen Butler.

The SupplySide Omega-3 Insights Defining the Global Market Digital Issue offers:

·         Omega-3 market trends in the article, Omega-3 Market Update: Numbers, Trends and Challenges" by Ellen Schutt,

·         Information on pharmaceutical omega-3 products in the article, "Limited Omega-3 Pharma Market Poised for Growth, Opportunities" by Steve Myers, and

·         Insight into adding omega-3s to functional foods in the article " Nothing 'Fishy' About Omega-3s" by Jeanne Turner.

About the Author(s)

Sandy Almendarez

editor in chief, Informa

Sandy Almendarez entered the natural products industry in 2009 when she joined Virgo Publishing (now Informa Exhibitions) as an assistant editor. Since then, she's worked her way up to editor in chief where she writes, edits and manages content for INSIDER. Under Sandy’s direction, INSIDER has won editorial awards from Folio: every year since 2014, including B2B Editorial Team of the Year in 2015.

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