In the past five years, there have been 255 bread launches containing omega-3, which represents 7.3% of total bread launches during the period, according to data from market analysts Mintel.
Most of these have come in North America (51%) followed by Europe (21%).
2011 saw the most introductions (70 globally), but omega-3 launches slowed last year to 54.
The most active companies in North America are Weston Bakeries with its Country Harvest Brand, Dare Foods, which has a series of flatbreads and crispy baguettes with omega-3 and Mexican firm Grupo Bimbo.
In Asia-Pacific, the market is dominated by Australian firm George Western Foods, which is a subsidiary of Associated British Foods (ABF) that manufactures the brand Tip-Top.
The market is more fragmented in Europe, but top firms such as Premier Foods, also owned by ABF, are making omega-3 claims.
Source: Plant and marine
Analysts at Mintel say that “there seems to be more focus now than in the past on the origin of the omega-3, especially with regard to multigrain/seeds that are positioned as a naturally rich source of… e.g. flax, chia.”
There are two main sources of omega-3: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Short chain omega-3 ALA is derived from plant sources such as canola and linseed or flaxseed oils, soybeans or green vegetables.
Long chain omega-3 EPA is found in oily fish such as salmon, swordfish and tuna and is widely regarded as the most effective type of omega-3 for development and function.
Rob Winwood, scientific communications manager for Nutritional Lipids at DSM, which sells EPA omega-3, said: “Only the marine oils have proven clinical benefits and EFSA Health claims for cardiovascular, brain and visual health benefits. “
“Originally it was thought that the ALA in some plant oils was beneficial because of conversion in the body to EPA and DHA. Actually, the International Society for Fatty Acids and Lipids made a position statement (no.5), stating the conversion level is less than 0.5% and cannot provide a useful intake.”
He said that ALA could help skin and hair condition but contended that there were no convincing randomized controlled trials showing cardiovascular benefits.
Health claims and dosage
Omega-3 health claims in the US are far less rigorous, but there are stricter controls in Europe.
For a product to be “a source of omega-3 fatty acids” in Europe, it must contain at least 0.3g of ALA per 100g and per 100kcal, or at least 40mg of the sum of EPA and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per 100g and per 100kcal.
To be a product “high in omega-3 fatty acids” in Europe it must contain 0.6g of APA per 100g and per 100kcal, or at least 80mg of the sum of EPA and DHA per 100g and per 100kcal.
Omega-3 breads can also make an EFSA-approved health claim for 'maintenance of normal heart health' provided each portion contains at least 40mg of DHA+EPA and 250 mg is consumed each day per day.
EFSA has previously rejected claims that EPA+DHA can maintain joints, enhance mood, attention and could maintain normal blood glucose concentrations. However, some firms are still making these claims on their websites.
Overcoming fish after-taste
DSM manufactures a marine-based omega-3 source called Meg-3 through its subsidiary Ocean Nutrition Canada Limited (ONC). The ingredient has previously been used by Allied Bakeries for its Kingsmill 50/50 with Omega-3 loaves.
Meg-3 is derived from either fish oils from Peruvian fisheries or algal oils from DSM’s US factories.
“Care in processing and packaging is the key to a good shelf life and prevention of fishy odor development,” said Winwood.
UK firm Warburtons launched its ‘Good Health Loaf for Women' in 2003, which was fortified with omega-3 DHA. It contained 30mg of omega-3 DHA per 100g of bread, but was later removed after disappointing sales.
Norwegian supplier Denomega also produces omega-3 derived from Norwegian marine sources called Omega-360 Pure 22-3 that it claims leaves no aftertaste.
In 2007, US-based Harvest Time Bread Company launched 'All natural' and 'Organic 8 grain breads' using Denomega’s omega-3.