Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of essential fatty acids that are found in foods, such as fish and flaxseed, and dietary supplements, such as fish oil. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils and DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood. In India, Omega-3 is available in three main sources – fish, algae, and plants and in oil and powder formats
Characteristics of different sources of Omega-3
Fish: Omega-3 from fish is rich in EPA and DHA. The typical composition of standard fish oil is 18:12 EPA:DHA. Some producers, particularly those using fish oil in soft gels or capsules prefer more concentrated oils such as 30:20 EPA:DHA for ease of formulation. In India, currently 18:12 and 30:20 EPA:DHA fish oil concentrations are most popular for use in supplements and pharmaceuticals. Demand for 10:40 EPA:DHA (high DHA) fish oils is also gradually growing in India. Increasing consumer awareness and popularity of “DHA” are due to the marketing efforts of functional food and beverage companies.
Algae: Algae are a preferred ‘vegetarian’ source of DHA, apart from plant oils in India. This is of great significance because enteral nutrition, infant nutrition and functional drinks producers consider only a vegetarian source of omega-3 for use in their end products. Other reasons for using algal DHA include a lower risk of contamination by heavy metals or pesticide residues and it is considered a more sustainable source than fish oils. It also lacks a fishy odour, which is a key constraint with using fish oils in functional foods. In addition, a few algal oil users like functional foods/supplements felt that algal oils are more shelf-stable than fish oils. The preference for algal DHA oils over fish oils in applications persists although algal oils are more expensive than fish oils.
Plant: The main sources of plant-based omega-3 are oil seeds such as canola, flax, corn, and soybean which contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) Omega-3 fatty acid. In India, vegetable oils are used as vegetarian sources of ALA and LA (Linolenic acid) mainly in clinical and infant nutrition applications. These are generally cheaper than both refined fish and algal oils. ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid, whereas LA is an omega-6 fatty acid. In applications such as infant nutrition, single or combination vegetable oils are used to meet the requirement of both LA and ALA in end product formulation for better bioavailability
In India, omega-3 fortified products and supplements are regulated under Food Safety and Standards (Health Supplements, Nutraceuticals, Food for Special Dietary Use, Food for Special Medical Purpose, Functional Food and Novel Food) Regulations, 2016. Listed under schedule VI – omega-3 fatty acids (docosahexaenoic acid – eicosapentaenoic acid – alpha-linolenic acid). Omega-3 ingredients can be sold with an FSSAI license or a drug license. Omega-3 ingredients are sold into food and pharmaceutical applications in India. There is little distinction between these two segments in India, since supplements which are registered as a food product (i.e. have a FSSAI license) are sold through doctors under prescription. An ingredient supplier and an end-product manufacturer who uses omega-3 ingredients can register themselves with the FSSAI. Approval by DCGI is required in India for selling end-products formulations as drugs for example Fresenius-Kabi’s products like Omegaven & SMOFlipid
Current Supply & Trade:
Of the total fish catch across India, only about 35% is used for fish oil production and the rest is used for direct human consumption and other industrial applications. Sardine is the major fish used for fish oil production and around 25 plants are operating in coastal states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. The crude and concentrated omega-3 oil producers are present in India. Key Indian producers are Arjuna Natural Extracts (Source: Fish, Plant), Blueline Foods (Fish), Arbee Biomarine (Fish), Bio-gen Extracts (Fish and plant), Coastal Exports (Fish), Janatha Fish Meal & Oil (Fish), Kamani (Plant), Lonza (Algal), Bio plus Life Sciences (Algal). More than 80% of omega-3 is from fish sources in India; the remaining 20% from plants and algal. In India, demand for concentred omega-3 oil is met by imports (50%) and domestic production (50%) of both fish and algal oils, whereas plant oils (100%) are largely produced within the country. India imports concentrated fish oil from Norway, Germany, Brazil, and China to meet the growing demand in the supplements sector and exports a large volume of crude fish oil and a negligible amount of concentrated fish oil to Australia, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea. Algal source omega oil/powder is imported from China and European countries
India Omega-3 Demand by Source, Concentration, Price, and Formats:
COVID-19 increased the Indian consumers perception of supplements as an aid to maintain immunity and its efficiency in fighting the deadly virus. This in turn drove demand for associated ingredients including omega-3. All major sources, multiple concentrations, and oil and powder forms are available in the Indian market. In supplements and pharmaceuticals (Multivitamins) 9:6, 18:12 and 30:20 EPA: DHA fish oil composition is popular. About 45% of omega-3 fish oil demand is 18:12 and 35% is 30:20, 15% 33:22, 10:40, and 36:24 and 5% demand for 46:38, 20:24, 34:30, 40:10, 5:3, 3:12 and 9 (DHA). Formats are mostly in oil forms (Conversion of oil to powder is expensive). For Algal omega 3, 60% demand for DHA (10% concentration) is mainly in powder format and remining 40% of DHA (20% (20% concentration) powder and 20% (40%) oil and powder format). Plant sourced ALA omega-3 demand is mainly for oil format. Fish source omega-3 is more economical than algal, and plant sourced.
Omega-3 applications by source:
Omega-3 fatty acids have been used in food fortification and dietary supplements for long in India. The dietary supplements sector is the largest consumer of omega-3 ingredients in terms of volume and value, followed by the F&B fortification sector. Fish oil sourced omega-3 ingredients dominate the dietary supplements sector, while algal DHA oils lead the F&B fortification industry. End-use application industries for omega-3 ingredients include infant nutrition with a significant consumption and pet nutrition with the least consumption in terms of volume. Doctors are prescribing omega-3 fatty acids containing supplements for general well-being or heart health. The pharmaceuticals drugs market in India is also witnessing the use of omega-3 fatty acids. Algal source DHA supplements are taken during pregnancy and postpartum as it plays an important role in the health and brain development of infants along with the improved visual and cognitive ability
Consumer awareness of omega-3 health benefits and rising disposable income, especially in urban areas of the country, will lead market growth in the future. COVID-19 pandemic has created growth opportunities in Omega-3 supplements markets and increasing consumer awareness and popularity of “DHA” is due to marketing efforts of functional food and beverage companies. India has the largest vegetarian population globally, with about 30% claiming to be strictly vegetarian. Among omega-3 ingredient sources, algal oil/powder is expected to grow ahead of fish oil because of the large vegetarian population in India. HPMC (Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose) vegetarian capsules are used for algal & plant source omega-3 supplements then gelatin (animal source) capsules. Algae is preferred in functional foods/infant/clinical nutrition due to many reasons – vegetarian, low risk of contamination, sustainable, better organoleptic properties. Algal source omega-3 fatty acid expected to register a CAGR of more than 10%, followed by fish and plant source at 8% (2022-27). Indian algal source omega-3 producers started extending capacity due to high demand in functional foods sectors. Consumers prefer dosages in the form of capsules to other formats like powder or oil since these are easier to swallow and are available in varying formulations and a familiar format. 30:20 EPA:DHA is preferred in supplements for the ease of formulation. Use of Algal sourced omega-3 ingredients are high in supplements and low in pharmaceuticals
F1rst is coming up with a study on the Omega-3 ingredients market capturing the supply-demand (2021-2026) scenario with key details on recent trends, how the market changed in the last few years in terms of availability, applications, competitive ingredients, challenges, opportunities, and other details. This study will give you a historical perspective of demand for a different source of Omega-3 ingredients and concentration in India and how this sector will shape in near future because of ongoing health trends. COVID-19 has paved a new way of looking at this ingredient
*He is an Associate Project Manager at F1rst with a postgraduate in Bio-Chemical Technology (BCT). For more information about this study, you can reach out to Vijayendran@firstmr.com