Flax seed, chia seed and algae all may provide a needed boost to the omega-3 fatty acid market, said Chris Schmidt, a consumer health analyst for Euromonitor International, in an April 8 presentation at Ingredient Marketplace in Orlando.
While providing omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), flax and chia both contain fiber and protein, too. Flax seeds are 28% fiber, 23% ALA and 20% protein, according to the Flax Council of Canada, Winnipeg, Man. Chia seeds are 37% fiber, 20% ALA and 20% protein, according to The Chia Co., which has a U.S. office in New York.
Flax and chia, along with other plant sources, may offer sustainability benefits when compared to fish, Mr. Schmidt said. Fish may be a source for omega-3 fatty acids in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The human body converts ALA into DHA and EPA, according to the Mayo Clinic. Evidence shows recommended amounts of DHA and EPA, taken as fish or fish oil supplements, may lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of heart attack, abnormal heartbeat and stroke in people who have heart disorders. DHA and EPA also may benefit people who have hardening of the arteries or high blood pressure. Similar effects have been found for ALA, but more evidence is needed to support its potential benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Future product development could come from DHA sourced from algae, Mr. Schmidt said, especially since DSM and Archer Daniels Midland Co. are active in this area.
Baby food/milk formula remains a large market for omega-3 fatty acid inclusion, he said. Spreadable oils and fats, milk, and bread are the most popular standard formats within other functional foods and beverages, Mr. Schmidt said. Globally, the market for spreadable oils and fats with omega-3 fatty acids was about $650 million in 2014. Milk was about $600 million, and bread was about $550 million.
The market for omega-3 fatty acid dietary supplements has been “tumultuous” in the 21st century, especially after studies in 2012 questioned heart health benefits, Mr. Schmidt said. He expects market growth for supplements to stabilize.