The global omega-3 supplement market reached new heights in 2019 and isn’t expected to slow down with a projected 7.4 percent annual growth rate through 2024. Consumers are looking to omega-3 supplements to address their health concerns, such as arthritis, cholesterol and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
However, consumers are becoming increasingly aware that the current business-as-usual approach of the reduction industry (the industry that processes fish for supplement oil) is unsustainable. One study reported that global demand for fish-free omega-3 supplements, including algae-based oil supplements, is accelerating at 9 percent annually, while another study found that 69 percent of U.S. supplement users' purchases "were influenced by sustainability factors."
"The interest is shifting from the type to the source of omega fatty acids across the health-conscious consumer base around the world, which is shaping the future of the market for plant-based omega-3 ingredients," a Transparency Market Research study reported.
This shift is crucial since the reduction industry processes 25 million metric tons of fish annually, usually those species described as “bottom-feeders,” to produce oil for 83.5 percent of omega-3 supplements—diminishing food sources for fish and marine mammals and threatening those at the top of the food chain.
Enter Nature's Crops International (NCI), a fatty oils manufacturer that partners with thousands of farmers to grow specialty crops, including Ahiflower—an oilseed crop with more than four times the omega-3s found in flaxseed. NCI views Ahiflower as the crop that can curb global reliance on fish-oil omega-3 supplements.
During a presentation at the Regenerative Earth Summit, a two-day conference that brought together leaders in the circular economy and regenerative agriculture, NCI CEO Andrew Hebard explained his company's long-term goal is to grow 1 million acres of Ahiflower.
"If we can get anywhere close to our goal, we'll take a huge amount of pressure off the oceans where we are somewhat indiscriminately harvesting these forage fish to grind up for the omega-3 industry," Hebard explained to TriplePundit.
Currently, 50 farmers, located mostly in the United Kingdom, partner with NCI to grow Ahiflower. NCI teaches its farmers how to incorporate regenerative growing practices, such as promoting biodiversity on their farms and maintaining continual ground cover. NCI also enters into “holistic partnerships” with farmers instead of buy-sell agreements, which means price stability and continuous support for farmers, Hebard said.
The exciting news is that regenerative Ahiflower production is scalable. Not only does one acre of Ahiflower produce as much oil as 40,000 mackerel or sardines, it can also fortify food. NCI entered into a partnership with Blue Pacific Flavors to incorporate Ahiflower oil into plant-based milk alternatives and nutritional desserts, expanding Ahiflower oil’s applicability.
The biggest challenge to accelerate demand is educating consumers that Ahiflower omega-3 supplements have a similar chemical composition as fish-based omega-3 supplements and can offer the same health benefits. Hebard remains optimistic as more studies surface that prove Ahiflower’s value.
"There's some really interesting science emerging about how plant-derived omegas are metabolized, and we feel this will give consumers a lot of confidence knowing their nutritional requirements can be obtained from good plant sources," Hebard told Danielle Masterson of NutraIngredients.
Image credit: Fornax/Wiki Commons
As a recent Bard MBA Sustainability graduate, Sarah is excited to be a contributing writer to TriplePundit to demonstrate how environmentally and socially responsible business is synonymous with stronger returns and a more sustainable world. She is most intrigued with how to foster regenerative food systems, develop inclusive and democratic workplaces and inspire responsible consumption.