While new food and beverage product introductions featuring omega-3 fatty acids have declined since 2008, a trend that has affected almost all food and beverage categories, sales of existing products appear to be increasing. In 2008, 454 new food and beverage products were introduced with omega-3 fatty acids, according to data provided by Mintel International Ltd., Chicago. In 2009 that number fell to 332 new product introductions, and, through Oct. 6, 2010, there were 232 new product introductions containing omega-3 fatty acids in the United States.

On the other hand, for the 13-week period ended Aug. 7, 2010, sales of food and beverage products declaring the presence of omega-3 fatty acids was $562,499,532, a 46% increase compared with the same 13-week period during 2009, according to The Nielsen Co.’s Label Trends and Strategic Planner, a service that tracks health and wellness claims across food and beverage categories.

The demand for products featuring omega-3 fatty acid claims is not surprising given the variety of health factors associated with the ingredient. Research has linked omega-3 fatty acids to alleviating chronic inflammatory conditions as well as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even various types of cancers. Recent research conducted at the Pennsylvania State University indicates omega-3 fatty acids may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure when people are under stress. The research recently was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

The slowdown in new product introductions is not surprising given the general slowdown in all food and beverage product introductions, but Chet Rao, marketing manager for Hormel Foods Specialty Products, Austin, Minn., said he thinks the industry is going to see more introductions in the future. Hormel markets and sells its ingredient Eterna Omegasource, which contains omega-3 EPA/DHA and vitamin D.

“A lot of companies are developing products right now, (and) I think next year we are going to see a lot of introductions,” he said.

The challenge manufacturers face is determining what claims they may make on products featuring omega-3 fatty acids. Mr. Rao said Hormel advises companies to avoid making any claims that are too strong, such as those that make it seem like omega-3 fatty acids will cure any diseases.

“Just put omega-3 on the label,” he said. “People understand that.”

Mr. Rao added that he believes the upcoming dietary guidelines may help clear up some of the confusion regarding what claims may be made for omega-3 fatty acids.

Other ingredient suppliers also are taking steps to capitalize on the potential demand for products featuring omega-3 fatty acids. During the International Baking Industry Exposition, held in late September in Las Vegas, Cargill, Minneapolis, introduced a shortening that it said will help bakers make omega-3 nutrient content claims. The company is marketing the new product under the Clear Valley brand name.

“U.S. sales of omega-3-enhanced food and beverage products are projected to reach $5.7 billion by 2012,” said Willie Loh, vice-president of marketing for Cargill’s oils and shortenings business unit. “With Clear Valley omega-3 shortening, omega-3s can now be easily added into a wide range of baked goods.”

Bakers using the Clear Valley shortening will be able to make “a good source of ALA (alpha linolenic acid) omega-3” or “excellent source of ALA omega-3” nutrient content claims, according to the company.

With demand for products featuring omega-3 fatty acids on the rise, there is concern among suppliers of the ingredient that quality and the ingredient’s reputation may suffer if more is not done to ensure ingredient quality. In late August, the Global Organization for EPA and DHA (G.O.E.D.) introduced its “Proud Member” logo program for its members. The program is intended to be a seal of quality assurance for customers when they are sourcing ingredients.

“The logo program will help suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and others interested in the health benefits of omega-3s to easily identify the companies who have met G.O.E.D.’s strict quality standards,” said Adam Ismail, executive director of the association. “Companies using this logo can be immediately identified as omega-3 industry leaders committed to increasing education and awareness of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.”