Rich in omega-3s, krill oil is invading supplement aisles

Krill – the little, shrimp-like, almost-last-on-the-food-chain ocean crustaceans – are taking on the big fish. And a bottle of krill oil capsules may soon knock those fish oil supplements right off your shelf.

Everybody knows that omega-3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA – are good for heart, joint and mental health, among other benefits. Or so we thought. A study published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that omega-3s do not benefit cardiovascular health in patients with or at risk of Type 2 diabetes. Because the study sampled only diabetic and pre-diabetic patients, the study’s implications are already being debated. That conversation will likely continue, with proponents pointing out that other studies did show a positive effect. The American Heart Association still recommends omega-3s for heart health.


The news of the NEJM article and subsequent discussion is unlikely to slow the sales of supplements, as well as omega-3 fortified foods, which are big business in the United States. The largest player in the supplement market is fish oil. Sales of over-the-counter fish oil supplements in the U.S. were $1.1 billion in 2010, an 11 percent increase, according to Nutrition Business Journal.


Health-conscious consumers looking for those all-important omega-3s might try to eat all the salmon, sardines and anchovies they can, but they are still likely to end up staring at a wall of supplements at a local store. Consumers used to immediately reach for the fish oil, but krill oil is increasingly becoming a sought-after alternative.


“We are definitely seeing a nice uptick in our krill oil sales and have added three items to our assortment over the last six months,” says Rikke Cumberbatch, category manager of specialty supplements for Vitamin Shoppe, which is headquartered in North Bergen. “The items grew nicely last year also, so we have 14 different items, three of which we bring in this year.”


Krill oil is selling well because of its great promise, says Todd Runestad, editor-in-chief of Functional Ingredients, a global health and nutrition industry publication.


According to Runestad, krill oil has been on the market about five years but has picked up steam in the last 12 months or so.


“Krill is just coming out of the woodwork, or water, or whatever the metaphor would be,” he says.

Aker BioMarine Antarctic U.S., which produces krill oil, had a 35 increase in revenue growth in the fourth quarter of 2011. According to Eric Anderson, vice president of sales and marketing at Aker, statistics show a 70 percent increase in all krill supplement sales compared with 6 percent of omega-3 sales from other sources like fish oil.


Consumers opting for krill oil prefer the smaller pills and more efficient absorption of DHA and EPA over fish oil. Krill oil, which is more expensive than fish oil, also comes without the fishy burps and offers other benefits.

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