Omega-3s enter the beverage aisle

by Allison Gibeson
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Consumers perceive omega-3 fatty acids as a healthy nutrient, and many food companies have introduced products aimed at helping consumers get the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. Now some manufacturers are using beverages as a delivery vehicle to increase consumer options.

“From a consumer standpoint, in a world where very few foods contain omega-3s, particularly DHA and EPA, beverages are a convenient way to obtain these important fats,” said Megan Gorczyca, spokesperson for DSM Nutritional Products, Inc., Columbia, Md. “We see now more than ever a trend to consume beverages with functional components geared toward healthy lifestyles. This opens the door for addition of omega-3s such as DHA and EPA given that the obstacles of addition can be overcome.”

Eighty-four per cent of consumers perceive omega-3 as a healthy fatty acid, according to the Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition survey from the United Soybean Board. That’s up from 79% in 2011.

DSM supplies omega-3 fatty acids for various juice, milk, smoothie and powdered drink mix products, including Horizon Milk and Minute Maid Pomegranate Blueberry Enhanced Juice. Ms. Gorczyca said innovation is still needed to help develop new product forms to incorporate the nutrient into a wider variety of beverages. Packaging improvements to help extened shelf life are necessary as well.

Benjamin Mamola, chief executive officer of Oceans Omega, Paramus, N.J., said there has been significant demand for beverages with omega-3s because it is a simple form of delivery and all people, from children to the elderly, may benefit from the nutrient.

“The average consumer doesn’t necessarily understand completely the health benefits of omega-3, but they understand it’s good for them,” he said. “So what has been demonstrated is when a product shows omega-3s in the product, it tends to get greater sell-through.”

Yet incorporating this healthful nutrient into beverages does not come without challenges.

Mr. Mamola and Ms. Gorczyca both said the first challenge is omega-3 fatty acids are oil-based, and getting oil and water to mix doesn’t come easily. But Mr. Mamola said even more difficult is trying to stabilize omega-3 fatty acids so they taste good in the finished product and the shelf life of the end product isn’t compromised. Omega-3 fatty acids are unstable in their natural form, and when they are exposed to oxygen in air or water they oxidize.

Ms. Gorczyca said incorporating the oil into water may be done through the use of an emulsion and hydrocolloids or through homogenization. She also said providing a cold storage temperature reduces oxidation of omega-3 fatty acids.

“To prevent the oxidation is the most challenging part of the omega-3 incorporation,” Mr. Mamola said. “What we’ve done at Oceans Omega is we’ve developed patented and proprietary processes that stabilize the omega-3s in the beverage application so that not only does it taste incredibly good, but the shelf life is as good or better, and it’s at room temperature and doesn’t require refrigeration.”
He said the supply chain also presents a challenge.

“It’s one thing to create an omega-3 ingredient and put it in a beverage at the lab scale, but in the real world when you are scaling up into manufacturing plants with multiple types of processes including pasteurization, there are many real-world challenges the ingredient is going to face from the beginning to the actual finished product,” Mr. Mamola said. “And that’s where the scale-up and supply chain part of our business is extremely exciting to us.”

Mr. Mamola added that his company’s emulsion technology has helped it to be able to use omega-3 fatty acids across a broad range of beverage categories, including waters, flavored waters, carbonated beverages, juice products and punch products.

“What has been unable to be delivered is a solution that provides an omega-3 fortification to a broad range of beverage categories,” Mr. Mamola said. “What we’ve been able to do now is successfully not only demonstrate at the small scale, but at the commercial scale the ability to be incredibly broad in the applications of the omega-3s we deliver.”

Oceans Omega recently announced an agreement with Cott Beverages to supply the private label manufacturer with omega-3 fatty acids. Mr. Mamola said his company anticipates announcing additional partnerships in the future. In the fall the company is launching Omega Infusion, a water product enhanced with 80 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.

Both DSM and Oceans Omega focus on DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, the kinds that have obtained qualified heart health claims from the Food and Drug Administration, but there are other companies focusing on ALA omega-3 fatty acids.

Drink Chia! is based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., and produces a plant-sourced drink that contains chia seeds, a source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. Chandra Davis, company co-founder, said the product came about when she was training for a marathon and needed a post-run anti-inflammatory product.

Ms. Davis said chia seeds work well with water and help with hydration. She said while chia seeds are well known in the athletic community, the appeal is widening.

“We have seen people who are actively looking for non-animal sources of omega-3,” Ms. Davis said.

She said chia seeds are not easy to work with, and it was challenging to achieve the right balance of omega-3 fatty acids with a good consistency in the end product. Drink Chia! products use whole chia seeds that have not been ground up.

“Omega-3s are going to become ubiquitous in all beverages like vitamin C has become ubiquitous in many food and beverage applications,” Mr. Mamola said, adding that he sees a “large number of beverage categories incorporating omega-3s because it’s good for the consumer, it’s better for health and in the United States we need to have a greater intake of omega-3s across the board.”

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, there were 34 beverages launched containing omega-3 fatty acids in 2011, up from 26 in 2010 and 16 in 2009.
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