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Omega-3 pours into cereal, orange juice, eggs, pet food

USA Today, January 1, 2007

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It's barely January, but there's no doubt what one of 2007's hottest food additives will be: omega-3.

The name may sound like a sci-fi film, but omega-3 — fatty acids found, for example, in fish and some nuts and oils — are increasingly being added to other foods, often via fish oil or flax seeds.

Tropicana this month will roll out the first national orange juice with omega-3. Kellogg put it into a Kashi cereal. Unilever put it in I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.

Food marketers' primary target is the 79 million baby boomers, because omega-3 has been shown to cut risks of heart disease and maybe other diseases, including Alzheimer's. Four in 10 adults are seeking more omega-3s in their diets, according to a HealthFocus USA Trend Survey.

"It's become the miracle food," says Maureen Putman, marketing chief at The Hain Celestial Group, which puts omega-3 in Health Valley cereal. It's also about to add it to an Earth's Best infant formula, since some studies show it can aid in brain development.

Two years ago, omega-3 showed up in 120 new food products, but in 2006, it appeared in about 250, estimates Mintel, the product research specialist.

"Omega-3 is the hot ingredient," says Lynn Dornblaser, analyst at Mintel.

The American Heart Association and the Food and Drug Administration give omega-3 a thumbs-up. Not all nutritionists, however, encourage consuming it as an additive rather than in foods such as salmon, where it is found naturally. "It isn't good nutrition to cram a lot of ingredients into a single food," says registered dietitian Robyn Flipse.

Omega-3 is in:

  • Orange juice. Consumers are used to fortifications, from vitamins to calcium, in OJ, says Jim McGinnis, marketing chief at Tropicana. Since 75% of adults don't get the amount of omega-3 they need, he says, Tropicana put it into its Healthy Heart with Omega-3s.
  • Butter substitutes. Unilever's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Mediterranean Blend, introduced in November, contains 400 milligrams of omega-3 per serving. Print ads tout: a new way to enjoy omega-3.

    "We see a rise in consumer awareness of health benefits," says brand manager Stephen McDermott.
  • Dairy products. Omega Farms adds omega-3 to milk and cheese, and this month will add it to yogurt and orange juice. Because of special processing, there is no taste or smell of fish oil, says CEO Stephen Gaddis.
  • Eggs. Eggland's Best sells eggs boosted to 100 milligrams of omega-3 per egg, vs. 37 mg. for a regular egg. It's done by giving hens feed that's high in canola oil, says Bart Slaugh, director of quality assurance.
  • Cereal. Kashi GoLean Crunch Honey Almond Flax cereal, introduced in July, has 500 milligrams of omega-3 per cup, says Kellogg spokeswoman Jill Saletta.
  • Pet foods. Procter & Gamble's Eukanuba added omega-3 in 1993, and Iams followed in 1994. Last year, Iams Smart Puppy added it for brain development.