Sponsored By

The Omega-3 Opportunity GapThe Omega-3 Opportunity Gap

Steve French

September 13, 2012

4 Min Read
The Omega-3 Opportunity Gap

Omega-3 supplements have been available to the mainstream consumer for many years. A large number of consumers currently use omega-3 supplements, and many more believe they are deficient in the nutrient. The omega-3 opportunity gap for food, beverage and dietary supplement manufacturers is actually three-fold, encompassing elements of physiological need, latent consumer demand and lagging consumer awareness of the full spectrum of omega-3 benefits.

A Gap Based on Physiology and Availability

Leading sources on nutrition, such as the Harvard School of Public Health and the Mayo Clinic, state omega-3s are essential to key regulatory functions in the body, namely control of blood clotting and building of cell membranes. Given these ostensible functions, omega-3s are considered protective against heart disease and stroke. Uses related to cancer, irritable bowel disease (IBD) and autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), are also being explored. Because the human body does not produce omega-3 fatty acids, they must be obtained through diet to experience their benefits.

The limited food sources containing omega-3s may also be lowering consumers ability to get sufficient amounts in the daily diet. The long-chain omega-3seicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)are generally only found in cold water fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerelnot a main staple of the American diet. Food fortification, such as that seen in the egg and buttery spread categories, is one way to ensure todays consumers can meet their daily quotient of EPA and DHA. Taking omega-3 supplements is another way to ensure adequate amounts, but compliance and cost may create further barriers, especially for younger consumers who prefer to get their daily nutrient requirements in the foods they eat rather than having to take supplements.

A Gap Based on Consumer Demand

The most recent research from Natural Marketing Institute's (NMI) Health and Wellness Trends Database® found nearly one in 10 (9 percent) U.S. adult consumers use omega-3 supplements, and that percentage has been increasing over time.

While reported omega-3 use is down slightly from the previous two years, a compound annual growth rate of 5 percent exists from 2006 to 2011.

The opportunity gap in consumer demand is represented by the difference between those who believe they are deficient in the nutrient and those who currently use it. Within the Boomer generation, perceived deficiency and use are the same; in the Mature, or over 65 age group, the percentage of those who believe they are deficient in omega-3s is less than the percent that use the supplement. Matures are most likely to take omega-3s as recommended on the product label, significantly more so than younger adult generations.

NMI research also shows consumers want to supplement their diets with more omega-3s, with about half of the population indicating they want more foods and beverages with omega-3s. Half also feel it is important for their store to carry foods enriched with omega-3; even the youngest age group (18 to 29 year olds) wants to find omega-3-enriched foods at stores where they shop. However, while consumer desire for foods enriched with omega-3 appears to be strong, the average diet is undeniably deficient.

A Gap in Knowledge

Perhaps consumers lack of knowledge of the extent of the benefits of omega-3s dampens the full potential demand for this nutrient. In other words, while half of consumers associate omega-3s with heart health, only a quarter associate it with cognitive health and even fewer associate omega-3s with other potential benefits.

The omega-3 opportunity gap is apparent on several fronts. First and foremost,  a physiological basis determines need. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our bodies proper functioning; yet, we are dependent on external sources to maintain adequate levels.

Second, a consumer demand gap exists. Within younger generations, a greater proportion of consumers identify a need (i.e., omega-3 deficiency) than actually use them, which presents an opportunity for manufacturers and marketers of both food/beverage and supplements to appeal to increased use in Gen Y and an aging Gen X.

Finally, there is a knowledge gap. While consumers are interested in increasing the level of omega-3 in their diets, their primary knowledge point is "heart health." Increasing awareness of benefits beyond heart health may further motivate consumers all along the age spectrum, but particularly among Boomers and Matures. These older generations already show a high level of awareness of the omega-3/heart connection, so additional benefits would be the route to motivating increased use among these demographics.

Steve French, managing partner, Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), has more than 25 years of strategic marketing, business development and management experience.

Find more on the health benefits of omega-3s in the SupplySide West Education session, "EPA/DHA Omega-3 for Health and the Prevention/Management of Chronic Disorders: Update 2012," on Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 2 to 2:50 p.m., Las Vegas.

About the Author(s)

Steve French

Chief Operating Officer, Natural Marketing Institute

As COO, Steve French ([email protected]) leads Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a strategic consulting, market research and business development firm specializing in the health, wellness and sustainability marketplace. He has over 30 years of related experience and insight into today’s consumer and market trends, and has pioneered a range of consumer databases to help clients navigate, identify and validate market opportunities. Prior to joining NMI, French spent 15 years at PepsiCo, Mars and Marriott.

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the healthy food and beverage industry.
Join 47,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like