Vegans looking for their omega-3s may turn to Gardenburger’s Flame Grilled Burgers. The product was introduced a while ago; however, the pronounced “Omega-3, 340mg ALA” flag was more recently added to promote the presence of this fatty acid. Canola oil, flaxseed and safflower oil are some of the sources.

The nutritional lipids arena continues to be dominated by the omegas. Within the family, product developers are looking at the benefits provided by docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from marine sources and those of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plant sources. While cost often governs why a specific ingredient is chosen for certain applications, nutritional attributes also play a role. The following summarizes recent related published research in scientific literature that supports benefits provided by each category of omega-3s, followed by new product activity and trends in the marketplace.

Vegans looking for their omega-3s may turn to Gardenburger’s Flame Grilled Burgers. The product was introduced a while ago; however, the pronounced “Omega-3, 340mg ALA” flag was more recently added to promote the presence of this fatty acid. Canola oil, flaxseed and safflower oil are some of the sources.

Prevention of CHD to Cognitive Decline

The role of omega-3s in cardiovascular risk prevention continues to dominate omega-3 research. A recent trial conducted in Holland with 37 mildly hypercholesterolemic elderly subjects demonstrated that EPA/DHA-supplemented diets increased LDL cholesterol and apoB levels in subjects, where no increases were observed with ALA supplementation. Researchers did report a favorable increase in tissue factor pathway inhibitor, associated with EPA/DHA supplementation. This appears to refute conclusions from researchers published in Atherosclerosis (July 2005), in which a fish oil-supplemented diet “produced predictable changes (reductions) in plasma lipids and small, dense LDLs that were not reproduced by the ALA-enriched diet.”

A systematic review of research examining the role of omega-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular disease was published in August 2006. Researchers concluded “evidence appears strong for a beneficial effect of very long-chain omega-3 fatty acids intakes on cardiovascular disease risk in secondary, but not in primary, prevention.” Researchers could not conclude the same for ALA, due to lack of high-quality evidence.

Alternatively, research conducted among hypercholesterolemic subjects, consuming either an olive oil or walnut (a good source of ALA) supplementation to a fatty meal, showed the walnut-supplemented fatty meal resulted in a 24% increase in brachial artery blood flow. The olive oil-supplemented diet showed a 36% decrease. While the trial was diminutive, the results suggested important implications for ALA in decreasing cardiovascular risk. Additionally, walnuts may actually help reduce the effects of a high saturated fat diet, which cannot be demonstrated to the same extent by olive oil. Like olive oil, walnuts are an important component of the Mediterranean diet, but enjoy less exposure.  

In the area of cognitive health, results of a small study published in the Archives of Neurology suggest that omega-3s may play a role in slowing mental decline among people with a very mild form of the disease. Following a 12-month supplementation period of DHA and EPA, researchers were able to show statistically different results in cognitive function among those study participants with a mild form of Alzheimer’s versus those at a similar stage in the disease who had received supplementation for only six months. Participants at a more advanced stage in the disease did not demonstrate the same results.

The Sustainability Factor

In reality, “essential” in the omega discussion boils down to ALA. While plant sources such as flaxseed, vegetable oils and purslane are rich sources of the essential fatty acids, its value to the body is in the DHA and EPA forms that are readily found in marine counterparts. While plant-based ALA is more abundant, more sustainable (from a production standpoint) and less susceptible to contaminants, bioconversion is the rate-limiting step, governed by a need for adequate sources of C, B6, B3, zinc and magnesium, and impeded by omega-6:omega-3 imbalances, common in Western diets. A 2006 article in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society estimates this to be 8% among men and 9% among women.

Enter stearadonic acid (SDA). SDA is an 18-carbon omega-3 oil found in small concentrations in hemp seed and blackcurrant seed oil. In converting to EPA, SDA does not require the desaturase enzymatic step within the omega-6 pathway, a rate-limiting step in ALA-EPA conversion. Through genetic remodeling of canola seeds, Monsanto Company, an agricultural biotechnology firm, demonstrated in 2003 that a land-based, sustainable source of SDA could be produced that has been shown to be effective in increasing EPA concentration in research participants. Producing fat-based products rich in SDAs may, in the future, provide formulators with another source of omega-3 ingredients.

Omega in the Marketplace

On the marine side, not all manufacturers are choosing to promote the omega-3 content of their products. Western Classics of Vancouver, BC, draws attention to the “good source” of omega-3 fatty acids in its wild Pacific salmon product in a chili-lime marinade (omega-6, 0.1g; omega-3, 0.9g per serving). Montreal-based Ocean to Ocean Seafood, however, makes no overt declaration about the omega content in its Smoked Salmon Ring with cream cheese product with 1g of omega-6 and 0.6g of omega per serving.

Creating differentiation beyond health, marine products are moving to an ethical platform. California-based A Wild Plant’s Wild Sockeye Salmon marries a high 7g EPA/DHA omega-3 content per serving with a focus on its minimal mercury content, being troll caught and being of the “wild sockeye” variety. The previously noted wild Pacific salmon is positioned as being “wild” (versus the farmed alternative), a claim gaining awareness among consumers.

While cereal dominates new product introductions containing flax, two other new products are worthy of mention. Toronto-based Renee’s Gourmet Foods launched a Gourmet Wellness Dressing line featuring six flavors. Pom-Berry features concentrated white grape juice, blueberries, red wine vinegar, expeller pressed canola oil, concentrated pomegranate juice, flaxseed oil, inulin and organic concentrated lemon juice, among other ingredients. Positioning focuses on its flaxseed oil and omega-3 content. Lee Iacocca’s Olivio spreadable butter, from Olivio Premium Products, contains flax, olive and canola oil and boasts 400mg of ALA omega-3.

Bringing new ideas to marketing health-favored olive oil, Victorian Olive Groves, in Canada, launched Vog Extra Virgin Olive Oil, infused with Mandarin oil. Beyond its unique flavor profile, environmentally friendly harvesting principles endear the product to the conscious consumer. Heartbeat Foods launched Smart Balance Omega, a natural blend of canola, soy and olive oils providing 1,230mg of omega-3s per serving.

Innovative Delivery Mediums and Applications

Borba launched Borba Clarifying Chocolate Bar, focused on helping to remove toxins and improve skin’s clarity. It contains cocoa polyphenols and pomegranate to help improve clarity and prevent break outs, and omega-3 fatty acids to help “reduce redness and irritation.” A powder from walnuts appears to be the source of EFAs.

Also in the chocolate line (but with a more traditional application) was Boticelli Choc-omeg from Dynamic Chocolates, another Canadian company. The market positioning is “for heart and soul,” with a claim that the product is also good for cardiovascular health. Three pieces of chocolate are reputed to contain 400mg of omega-3 and to be a source of heart healthy B vitamins lycopene and co-enzyme Q10, as well as antioxidants and vitamin C.

Making a sole appearance for stearidonic acid (SDA) mention, Gertrude & Bronneris Magic ALPSNACK contains more than 500mg of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as “significant amounts of the rare ‘super’ poly-unsaturated fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and SDA.” Ingredients include organic almonds, organic hemp nuts, organic apricots, organic apples, organic infused cranberries (organic cranberries, organic sugar, organic sunflower oil), organic rice crisps (organic rice flour, organic cane sugar, sea salt), organic rice syrup, organic lemon juice and natural vitamin E. The product is also gluten- and wheat-free.

Global Observations

Most commonly understood in the U.S. as flax or flaxseed oil, linseed oil is on the rise in new products launched around the world. (See chart “Worldwide Linseed Use.”) The most prolific use of linseed oil in formulations is found in Mexico, Australia, Germany, the U.K. and Finland. Internationally, however, the opportunity to position around the omega-3 properties of linseed is inconsistent and depends on the manufacturer, rather than the country. 

Given the concentration of several components of the omega family, blackcurrant seed oil sees surprisingly rare use in formulations. Blackcurrant seed oil is a rich source (15% to 20%) of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and a good source (12% to 14%) of ALA. SDA is present in smaller amounts (2% to 4%). Only one new product containing blackcurrant oil was found using a full-text search in GNPD. Olys is a cereal and fruit oil from Carapelli, Florence, Italy, launched in 2006 for use as a dressing or a cooking oil. The product touts a naturally rich content of vitamin E, EFAs, omega-3 and gamma-oryzanol. Ingredients include corn oil (certified GM-free corn), rice oil, wheat oil, oil from fruits (3%), walnut oil and blackcurrant oil.

Most notable of all is the rise in the use of omega-9s, otherwise recognized as oleic acid, in formulations. Oleic acid is associated with lowering risk factors associated with heart disease. Using the search term “omega-9” and looking at all new products less than one year old, Mintel’s GNPD reveals 43 new product launches worldwide in 2006 that specifically mentioned omega-9.  Argentina and Indonesia were the most prolific in this area. In Argentina, omega-9 appears in cereal bars, crackers and oils. In Indonesia, the principal delivery medium is oils.

New products containing omega-3, -6 and -9 or combinations thereof also are growing in popularity. (See chart “Omega Combinations.”) Worldwide growth of combination omega products has tripled since 2002, led by Malaysia and Canada. Scozil, in London, launched an Acai Brazilian Rainforest Superberry Juice Drink in September 2006; it contained “essential omegas 6+9.” In the same month, Zaklad produckyjno-Handlowy, in Poland, introduced Chleb Dla Serca bread for the heart, containing omega-3,-6 and –9. It is clear that consumers understand the growing list of benefits of omegas and are interested in incorporating more of them in their daily diets. NS

The information in this article was derived from the Mintel Global New Products Database,, 312-932-0400.

Going Global

According to the Mintel GNPD, a full-text search for new product launches worldwide in 2006 containing omega-3 yielded 289 results. Canada, the U.S., France, the U.K. and Italy launched the most new products in this order. While Canada and the U.S. were more aggressive in grain-based products, France and Italy erred more toward the fats/oils/dairy category. Unilever Best Foods, Rueil Malmaison, France, launched Planta Fin Idea!, a low-fat spread containing both DHA and ALA targeted to children. Laiterie le Gal, Quimper, France, launched a coloring- and preservative-free spread: Le Gall Beurre de Baratte de Bretagne, containing 800mg of omega-3s per 100g serving. The source of the omega-3 is linseed supplementation in the cows’ diet. Parmalat in Perugia, Italy, launched Parmalat Omega, a semi-skimmed milk with added vitamins C, E, B6 and omega-3 fatty acids provided from fish oil.