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Innovation Disrupts the Omega-3s Market

Innovations have taken the fledgling omega-3 segment from simple flax and fish oil supplements to a maturing market filled with new sustainable vegetarian and animal sources, high-quality condition-specific formulations and a range of new product applications to help consumers enjoy their omega-3 consumption and improve intake of key fatty acids, including DHA and EPA.

In a maturing market like omega-3s, specifically EPA- and DHA-focused ingredients, innovation is a big factor in survival among the many competitors. Just when you think there is no room left to innovate, something comes along to disrupt the market.

For instance, several partnerships have been developing seed crops to produce high levels of EPA and DHA. The seeds are genetically modified using genes from a DHA/EPA source. One partnership between U.S. based seed company Nuseed and CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), an Australian government scientific research group, is using genetic materials from algae to develop a canola plant rich in the long-chain omega-3s. Another US-based company, Cargill, has partnered with BASF to develop a canola plant rich in DHA and EPA, but the company would not divulge the source of the genetics.

Kristine Sanschagrin, marketing manager, Specialty Seeds and Oil, Cargill, said consumers are already familiar with canola as a healthy oil that is low in saturated fat and used as a food ingredient. Further, Cargill already had ingredients featuring high-oleic canola oil, including a version that stabilizes fish oil to cut undesirable aromas and flavors typical in marine oil products. Still another in why canola was the right choice for a vegetarian EPA-DHA ingredients was cost. “We expect our canola to be a much more economically available omega-3 product for our customers than algae-based omega-3 products," she said.

An EPA- and DHA-rich plant-based ingredient grown from genetically modified canola seeds is still about five years off, due largely to regulatory approvals. The seeds and plants in both partnerships have shown satisfactory high levels of DHA and EPA, based on field testing, but any new hybrid seed must be deregulated by governments around the world before it can be sold in those countries. Sanscchagrin said Cargill wants to achieve deregulation worldwide before launching its GM canola ingredient, which will feature contract growers, potentially even in regions around the globe.  

As for the levels of DHA and EPA in these GM canola plants? Sanchagrin would only say that the target levels were guided by the intake recommendations—relative to heart and brain health—from various key countries, including the European Union (1 g daily) and the United States (American Heart Association recommendation of between 2050 mg and 500 mg daily).

While there is still a lengthy process of deregulation to complete for these DHA- and EPA-producing canola seeds, this is the type of innovative research and development that could create new market space and provide manufacturers and consumers more options, especially in the functional food segment.

Stuart Rose, former executive chairman of British retailer Marks & Spencer, said this about innovation: “If you wait for customers to tell you that you need to do something, you're too late. Good business leaders should be half a step ahead of what customers want, i.e., they don't actually quite know they want it."

To read more about innovation in the omega-3s market, read the article, “Innovations in the Omega-3s Market," by Steve Myers, in INSIDER’s Nutritional Lipids/EFAs Content Library.

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