The omega-3 industry is facing challenges due to limited fish oil supply and consumer confusion about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, alongside increasing demand from the aquaculture sector, Natural Products Insider reported from the Global Organization for EPA and DHA omega-3s (GOED) biannual event held in Athens, Greece.

Plant-based and algae-based oils were being developed as alternative omega-3 sources to help meet increasing demand, the 5 February report said.

Last year was a challenge for US and Peruvian menhaden supply, delegates at the conference held at the Grand Hyatt, Athens, on 23-25 January heard.

According to Enrico Bachis, market research director of the Marine Ingredients Organisation (IFFO), supply was expected to recover to normal levels by the middle of this year although this would only last until the next El Niño event in the next three to four years.

Despite supply recovery this year, it was still not expected to keep up with future demand, the report said.

By 2050, global good production would need to increase by 50% compared to current levels but current fish oil reserves would not offer that type of supply, Panos Kalogiorgas, manager of strategy consulting with Deloitte, was quoted as saying.

In addition, the aquaculture sector’s demand for omega-3 ingredients was also expected to increase, Gertjan de Koning, CEO of algal oil company Veramaris, said.

Half of all seafood was currently farmed and as the global population increased, the need for farmed fish would also rise, he added.

Against this backdrop, panellists at the conference discussed some possible solutions to the current situation, the report said.

One solution was for brands to use different fish that had lower levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). For example, although cod liver oil contained less DHA and EPA than anchovy, it offered other beneficial fatty acids.

Another possible solution was to combine algae and fish oil and/or plant-based oils.

Although the US market for animal-based omega-3 oil was steady, growth was expected to come from plant and algae-based omega-3s, Natural Products Insider wrote.

However, according to polling data from SupplySide West 2023, the industry was concerned with the cost and unfamiliar regulatory aspects of plant-based ingredients.

In addition, the scale-up of algae production to meet increased demand would not necessarily reduce costs, Veramaris’ Koning said.

Delegates also heard that although consumers understood the benefits of fish oil, they did not always recognise the health benefits of omega-3s.