Vitamin Retailer November 2013 : Page 24
Already aware of the health benefits of marine-based EFA supplements, savvy consumers are now focusing on pure and sustainably sourced products. By Carolyn Steber T he market for marine-based omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) supplements has been growing as consumers become more aware of the numerous health benefits, including joint, brain and cardiovascular health. Because of this, fish oil supplements are now more popular than multivitamins, according to Consumer Lab. “Of every-thing on the market, fish oil is just about the most important supplement you can take because of all the health benefits it 24 VITAMIN RETAILER provides,” said Andreas Koch, market-ing director at Washington-based Barlean’s, which specializes in omega-3s and green food concentrates. A recent survey showed that 45 per-cent of supplement users already take an omega-3 product, and another 31 percent are considering adding one, which is a huge market, according to Michele McRae, CN, senior director of research, formulation and quality at California-based Rainbow Light, a com-pany that specializes in food-based sup-plements. “Over the years we’ve seen the understanding of the importance of these compounds in terms of maintain-ing optimal health and prevention of disease reach the average consumer,” she said. Health benefits aside, educated con-sumers are looking for something more than another fish oil pill, and are turning their attention to products that are test-ed for purity and are sustainably sourced, two key concerns for marine-based omega-3 products. This includes WWW.VITAMINRETAILER.COM ■ NOVEMBER 2013
From Sea To Shelf
Already aware of the health benefits of marine-based EFA supplements, savvy consumers are now focusing on pure and sustainably sourced products.<br /> <br /> The market for marine-based omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) supplements has been growing as consumers become more aware of the numerous health benefits, including joint, brain and cardiovascular health. Because of this, fish oil supplements are now more popular than multivitamins, according to Consumer Lab. “Of everything on the market, fish oil is just about the most important supplement you can take because of all the health benefits it provides,” said Andreas Koch, marketing director at Washington-based Barlean’s, which specializes in omega-3s and green food concentrates.<br /> <br /> A recent survey showed that 45 percent of supplement users already take an omega-3 product, and another 31 percent are considering adding one, which is a huge market, according to Michele McRae, CN, senior director of research, formulation and quality at California-based Rainbow Light, a company that specializes in food-based supplements. “Over the years we’ve seen the understanding of the importance of these compounds in terms of maintaining optimal health and prevention of disease reach the average consumer,” she said.<br /> <br /> Health benefits aside, educated consumers are looking for something more than another fish oil pill, and are turning their attention to products that are tested for purity and are sustainably sourced, two key concerns for marinebased omega-3 products. This includes products from companies that fish in compliance with catch limit regulations, and source from species that are less likely to be contaminated with heavy metals or other toxins.<br /> <br /> “People are more educated and more informed, [and] doing their research. They know they need omega-3, and they want the very best, quality, purest product,” said Marc St. Onge, CEO and founder of Ascenta Health, a natural health product developer from Canada.<br /> <br /> Sustainability can be an important conversation for retailers to have with their customers. “It’s an additional story to tell, and it’s an important story to tell,” said Cheryl Hughes, owner of Whole Wheatery, a retail store in Lancaster, CA. “We can now offer dietary supplements that don’t impact the oceans in the way that they once were.” <br /> <br /> Responsible Sourcing <br /> <br /> In response to consumers’ increasing demands for quality products, companies have given careful and equal consideration to sourcing and environmentally friendly fishing practices. For example, Ascenta’s oils are derived from sustainably harvested wild stocks that are closely regulated and monitored by government authorities, according to St. Onge. “Specifically, we don’t use any species such as shark, krill, tuna or cod,” he said. “The sources we use, such as squid and sardines, are also high-quality sources of EFA, much less likely to contain any contaminants than some larger fish.”<br /> <br /> Ascenta’s NutraSea line offers a wide range of fish oil products, including balanced formulas for general health as well as specialized formulas to meet specific consumer needs. For example, NutraSea offers NutraSea hp, a highpotency, high EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) formula that’s great for joint health and muscle recovery. The company also offers a formula with vitamin D, and another with high DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which works wonders for heart health, brain function and fetal and infant development, St. Onge noted.<br /> <br /> Swisse Wellness, the No. 1 multivitamin brand in Australia with U.S. headquarters in Illinois, is also focusing on sustainably sourced omega products. “Swisse Ultiboost Wild Krill Oil comes from shellfish that is sourced sustainably from the Southern Ocean and is extracted from Antarctic krill, the most abundant marine biomass,” said Ulrich Irgens, executive vice president, Americas, and international business director for Swisse. “We are aware that krill play a large role in the marine world and, as such, we ensure that we source krill in a sustainable manner.” <br /> <br /> Swisse harvests its krill oil in compliance with the established setting of international precautionary catch limit regulations and the Antarctic Treaty of 1961. The krill is caught using midwater trawl fishing techniques that reduce the impact on other species as by-catch, said Irgens. Similarly, Swisse Ultiboost Odorless Wild Fish Oil is sourced from fish that swim freely in the Pacific Ocean, said Irgens, calling this form of fishing a “sustainable free range form.” <br /> <br /> Rainbow Light also employs responsible fishing methods, choosing to focus on small, deep-sea fish off the shores of Peru for products such as Omega Brain Performance and Omega Cardio Performance. “Rainbow Light uses only smaller fish species such as anchovies and sardines, as they are not endangered, repopulate more quickly and accumulate fewer toxins than larger fish like salmon,” said McRae. “These fish are wild-caught in pristine Peruvian waters, the No. 1 ranked fishery ecosystem in the world.” <br /> <br /> Rainbow Light chose suppliers that fish off the shores of Peru due to the country’s strict controls to prevent overfishing and to protect the marine ecosystem, said McRae. When researching suppliers, the company found that 30 percent of “wild” Alaskan salmon actually starts life in fisheries where they are fed smaller fish, leading to a bioaccumulation of toxins. “Six pounds of fish is required as feed to produce one pound of farmed salmon,” McRae said. Rainbow Light has avoided this by utilizing a vertical integrated system, controlling the production of the company’s oils from fish to shelf.<br /> <br /> And for Barlean’s, which sources its ingredients from the company’s commercial family fishery, sustainability is of paramount concern. “Barlean’s considers our adherence to sustainable fishing practices, preservation of endangered species and government fishing laws of utmost importance,” said Koch. “We take great care in minimizing environmental impact and in following their governmental regulations in the areas off the coasts of Norway, Peru and Alaska to prevent overfishing and endangering other species.” <br /> <br /> Barlean’s is certified by MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), which ensures marine populations and ecosystems remain healthy for future generations. Further, the company takes sustainability a step further, using air compressors to power most of its small production tools, and uses biodegradable packing for its products.<br /> <br /> Whole Wheatery’s Hughes said she has had great success with Barlean’s omega products and has begun the conversation with her customers regarding sustainability. “Not only is it better for [Barlean’s] as a company, but it’s way better for us as a planet,” she said. “We really want the planet to survive.” <br /> <br /> Processing & Purity <br /> <br /> Along with sustainably sourced fish oil, consumers are also looking for pure products that have gone through rigorous safety measures. According to Barlean’s Koch, customers seek out quality and purity guarantees that promise a supplement free of mercury, lead, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other contaminants. One way companies ensure that products are free of contaminants is to use smaller fish, such as anchovies, that usually contain less environmental contaminants than bigger fish.<br /> <br /> Another way is to have the oil thirdparty tested. Barlean’s has received the esteemed 5-star rating from IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) and each batch of oil is tested by IFOS for purity and safety, Koch said. And to ensure freshness, Barlean’s oils are molecularly distilled and go through a patented FreshTech process to ensure optimal quality and potency.<br /> <br /> Retailer Hughes said it’s great when a company does the extra work so she can assure her customers that the products they are taking are safe. “Low mercury in fish oils is a big issue,” she said. “We all know that most of our waters are polluted. We talk to customers about the efficacy of the testing. Anybody can test, but you want to make sure the tests are done by a third party.” <br /> <br /> Florida-based ReNew Life Formulas also employs third-party testing to ensure the highest quality for its Norwegian Gold Advanced fish oils. “Every batch of our fish oil is third-party tested by IFOS, and certified as 5-star oil,” said Brenda Watson, president and founder. “Many companies test their oils, but ReNew Life insists that every batch is IFOS 5-star rated so our customers are assured that every bottle of our fish oil is as pure as possible and of the highest possible quality.” <br /> <br /> Rhonda Miller, president of Health Foods Unlimited in Centerville, OH, said she has noticed her customers’ focus on purity and potency. “I do know that ReNew Life has done a lot of [its] own research,” she said. “They searched out the best quality they can find. That’s why we’re pretty safe in recommending [Norwegian Gold]. We sell a lot of it.” <br /> <br /> Ascenta also pays close attention to purity, because, as St. Onge puts it, “you only get out what you put in.” “Each and every batch of Ascenta fish oils are third-party lab tested to ensure they are ultra pure,” he said. “We also spend more money during processing to ensure that our fish oils are converted to a TG (triglyceride) form. Many cheaper omega-3s are in ethyl ester form, which is not approved in Australia. TG is absorbed more easily by the body and is the natural form in which omega-3s are present in fish.” Ascenta’s third-party testing results are posted online at www.purecheck.net. <br /> <br /> An additional way to create a fresh product is to bottle it up as soon as it’s processed. “Our oils are encapsulated at our pharmaceutical-grade facility, which is adjacent to the fish oil processing facility, maximizing freshness,” said Rainbow Light’s McRae. “Our standards for purity exceed Prop 65 and GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA) standards for purity.” <br /> <br /> A Potent Product <br /> <br /> Another important factor consumers are considering is the potency and absorbability of fish oil supplements. Instead of having to swallow eight pills a day, consumers are keeping an eye out for “high potency” oils. “How many pills can we take? We can only take so many. We have an ‘okay, that’s enough’ kind of moment,” said Whole Wheatery’s Hughes.<br /> <br /> Many companies are now offering high potency formulas in delivery methods that are easily digested to not only aid in absorption, but to also avoid the “fish burp” or aftertaste commonly associated with fish-based omega-3 supplements.<br /> <br /> For example, ReNew Life’s Norwegian Gold fish oils provide all the EPA and DHA needed in just one daily soft gel. “Another major benefit to Norwegian Gold fish oils is the addition of the fatdigesting enzyme lipase and our unique enteric coating,” said Watson. “Lipase helps you digest the beneficial fatty acids found in fish oils and enteric coating helps to target the release of the oil in the small intestine to reduce burping.” <br /> <br /> Health Foods Unlimited’s Miller said her customers like the potency of Norwegian Gold, and appreciate the enteric coating, adding that they are more likely to take the product because they don’t get a fishy taste.<br /> <br /> Ascenta also addresses fish burp concerns with an “ultra-pure” product that comes in a variety of flavors. “Our liquid formulas come in flavors such as mango, apple and lemon, and have a remarkably clean taste due to the purity of the product,” said St. Onge. “Our soft gels are mint-flavored and also do not cause any unpleasant burp back.” Ascenta takes care to prevent the oils from oxidizing, which is what causes unpleasant fishy smell and aftertaste. “With a really high-quality omega-3, you don’t get that fishiness,” St. Onge added.<br /> <br /> Some might say Barlean’s has found the ultimate pleasant taste with its Omega Swirl, a smoothie flavored omega-3 line that is also extremely potent—providing a full daily dosage of EPA and DHA. The Omega Swirls are also more absorbable than standard fish oil, according to Koch.<br /> <br /> Hughes said that the Omega Swirl line is very popular among her customers, and she supplies samples to customers on a daily basis. “Barlean’s does a fabulous job not only in their sourcing and their information, but also in the flavor profile,” she said. “If people want to take a liquid fish oil, it needs to taste good, so it’s an important thing they do. They certainly accomplished it.”<br /> <br /> GOED Confirms Safety of Omega-3s<br /> <br /> Arecent white paper, published jointly in August by GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3) and Nutrasource Diagnostics in Canada, entitled “Measurement of Environmental Contaminants in a Globally- Representative Sample of Fish Oil Supplements,” reported details of an analysis of more than 1,800 fish oil samples with a comparison against the contaminant limits of the GOED Voluntary Monograph. This monograph adopts the strictest regulatory limits globally and has served as a symbol of quality in the industry since 2002, according to Ellen Schutt, communications director at GOED.<br /> <br /> The paper showed that fish oil supplements can increase blood concentrations of n-3 fatty acids, which are thought to be largely responsible for the beneficial health effects of fish. However, there has been growing concern over environmental contaminants that accumulate in the fatty tissues of fish.<br /> <br /> The study investigated a total of 1,894 fish oil samples under GOED’s Voluntary Monograph tolerance. Cadmium, lead and mercury were detected at mean levels, but all values were still below GOED allowance. Mean levels of PCB, dioxin and furans, and dioxin-like PCB levels were also all within GOED specifications. The only slightly higher concentration of toxins was arsenic, but it is difficult to ascertain form contributions, according to the paper. And less concentrated fish oil samples were more polluted with mercury and PCBs than higher concentrated samples, but were still within tolerance.<br /> <br /> “The data from this unprecedented large sample size, collected over five years from around the world, confirms the low levels of contamination present in fish oils,” said Harry B. Rice, PhD, GOED vice president regulatory and scientific affairs. “This data is nothing short of a testament to the industry’s efforts to meet consumers’ expectations of safe, high-quality fish oil products. Now, retailers that sell fish oil products have further evidence to share with customers that the products they are recommending (and selling) are safe.” <br /> <br /> For more information, visit www.goedomega3.com.