Omega-3 fortified products making their mark – but is it as popular as analysts think?

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 9th October 2008

Over two-thirds of consumers report they are now aware of Omega-3 fatty acids, and over a third routinely consume products with Omega-3. The net result is an average annual increase in the Omega-3 product market of over 30 per cent since 2000, but skeptics remain about the true success of Omega-3 fortified products.

Market analysts Frost & Sullivan recently completed a whitepaper entitled ‘Flax-based Omega-3 Alpha Linolenic Acid: The Shape of Things to Come’ that highlights the key benefits valued by consumers of flax-based Omega-3 ALA – one of the three most prominent types of the healthy fatty acid.

“Increased media attention regarding obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and rising healthcare costs has had a permanent influence on consumer awareness of their own habits,” notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Christopher Shanahan. “Consumers increasingly look to functional foods … as a way to offset the odds of paying for higher medical care and pharmaceuticals in the future.”

There are still many unmet needs with respect to providing an optimal balance of essential fatty acids. This includes the availability of products that offer convenience and flexibility, such as a single product outside of a dietary supplement. Consumers also want products that taste good, can be easily integrated into foods that are already a regular part of their diet, and are cost-effective. Frost & Sullivan believe flax oil with Omega-3 ALA satisfies all of these needs.

“A lot of people do not understand the benefits of flax-based Omega 3 ALA compared to the other Omega-3 sources,” Mr Shanahan suggested. “However, because of the increase in consumer knowledge of Omega-3 and its health benefits, there is no reason why Omega-3 ALA cannot be as valuable as Omega-3 EPA and DHA in the food and food ingredient industries.”

Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found naturally in seafood, have become a prominent nutrient in a wide range of products from bread to oil and even ice cream. There has, however, been reports this year that the Omega-3 market is not as strong as had been anticipated. Many products that have added the nutrient have often struggled to gain a strong market share, with one of the notable exceptions being Tip-Top Omega-3 bread here in Australia. The rapid growth in the market may, in fact, be due to the increased number of products rather than the popularity of Omega-3 products.

Despite the reported struggles of some manufacturers to reap rewards by using the ingredient, many analysts believe potential for Omega-3 products is still untapped. The functional foods sector is booming and Omega-3 fatty acids are considered one of the healthiest nutrients, hence the bullish outlook. For many, the problem has been incorporating the ingredient without compromising taste, while some others – who have conquered this issue – have had difficulty altering consumer perceptions. Producing the right product is only half the battle, with consumers needing to be convinced that taste isn’t compromised otherwise they will remain reluctant to purchase such products.

After all, perception is everything.