Plants and microalgae spur new omega-3 formulations

13 May 2022

With health and environmental awareness high among consumers, omega-3 producers are exploring the use of plant-based and microalgae ingredients to appeal to consumers’ nutritional needs.

Omega-3s are fatty acids that play an essential role in diet and nutrition. They are popular with consumers for their purported health benefits, ranging from heart and cardiovascular health to improving symptoms relating to depression, eye health and infant development.

Plants and microalgae spur new omega-3 formulations

Increase in plant and microalgae-based omega-3s

There are three main types of omega-3s: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are commonly found in fish and other types of seafood. However, as consumers increasingly focus on their health and the environment, formulators are tapping into plant and microalgae ingredients to meet consumer demands for nutritional value from vegan alternatives. 

“We can say with relative certainty that interest in plant-based and microalgae-led innovations is on the rise,” says Elana Natker, GOED’s director of consumer and health practitioner communications. GOED is a global organisation that represents the EPA and DHA omega-3 industry. The organisation aims to ensure the development of high-quality products that build trust and boost the consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3s, regardless of their source. 

“We know from tracking the omega-3 industry and consumer trends that interest in algae- and plant-based EPA and DHA sources are high,” says Natker. GOED is due to publish a new Finished Product Report, Natker says. The report will be in addition to the organisation’s regularly published Ingredient Market Report. For both of these reports, the organisation notes it has held intelligence-gathering conversations with its members that support its statement that high interest in algae and plant-based EPA and DHA sources exists.

What consumers think about omega-3

GOED explains that it tracks the understanding and usage of omega-3 on a country-by-country basis. Doing so enables the organisation to gauge consumer perceptions of omega-3s, it says. “Overall, it seems that most consumers are aware of omega-3s, but the use of omega-3 supplements is variable and, in some countries, fairly low,” says Natker.

The EPA and DHA omega-3 industry representative conducts consumer omnibus surveys in countries worldwide. GOED notes that, to date, it has surveyed consumers in more than 20 countries regarding attitudes and behaviours around health and wellness activities. It conducts these surveys with a sample size of 1,000 people and is nationally representative of the consuming class in each country, GOED says. The organisation also repeats key countries to gather trending information. From pulling data from various countries, particularly those surveyed most recently, Natker says: “I know that awareness is usually quite high but usage is variable”.

David Erlandsson, co-founder of Danish producer of microalgae-based food and beverage applications, Aliga Microalgae, says that the perception of omega-3 is “very good as there are several approved EFSA claims on it”. However, sustainability, overfishing and heavy metals are concerns among consumers, Erlandsson says. With today’s consumers increasingly aware of these concerns surrounding their food items, including fish-derived omega-3 products, “many are looking for vegan alternatives”, Erlandsson says.

Evolving omega-3 based formulations in food and drink

Vegan omega-3 formulations are gathering pace with health and environmentally conscious shoppers. “We see more and more consumers wanting to consume vegan omega-3 sources instead of fish-derived omega-3,” says Erlandsson.

However, Erlandsson says that there is only one European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved microalgae strain containing Omega-3, which is the Schizochytrium sp. The single-cell microalga is mainly being cultivated by Royal DSM and Evonik, Erlandsson says.

As a result, the leading driver from the consumer side, Erlandsson says, is to swap fish-based omega-3 for algae omega-3 as it is a “more sustainable source in terms of reducing overfishing and heavy metal content”.

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