But technological advances - many pioneered by California-based firm Virun - have changed the game, says CEO Philip Bromley, who has developed patented technology enabling the inclusion of EPA+DHA (which are prone to oxidation) in shelf-stable foods and beverages at unprecedented levels of 750-1,500mg per serving.
To put this into perspective, most foods with added EPA and DHA contain around 32mg per serving - significantly below the American Heart Association recommendation of 250-500mg/day, prompting many consumers to take supplements, which typically contain far higher doses.
Technology enables a smoothie with 600mg EPA + DHA in 8oz serving with 10g protein that is stable under ambient conditions for up to a year
Bromley was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after he and Chet Rao from the specialty products division at Hormel Foods were granted a patent (click HERE) covering the compositions and methods for incorporating high levels of oil-soluble compounds from long-chain omega-3s to CoQ10 and astaxanthin into water-soluble foods and beverages.
Hormel Foods and Virun have developed dozens of products utilizing the patent from juices to baked goods, sauces, dips, and dairy products, said Bromley, citing the example of a smoothie containing 600mg of EPA + DHA in an 8oz serving with 10g protein that is stable under ambient conditions for up to a year unopened - with no fishy taste or smell.
“We’re constantly being challenged to add more, and in some applications we can get up to 1,500mg of EPA/DHA into as small as a 15 ml serving, or a tablespoon, although if customers want only DHA, the limit is around 500mg.”
In some applications we’ve even got to 1,500mg EPA +DHA per 15ml serving, with clean labels
Historically, firms trying to incorporate long-chain omega-3s in beverages have had to add ingredients to mask fishy odors & tastes, refrigerate their products, add preservatives such as EDTA, potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate, or use detergents to reduce particle size and deliver lower turbidity (to create a more clear, water-like appearance).
However, Virun has developed technology - backed by a suite of 40 patents - enabling firms to incorporate meaningful doses of unstable bioactive ingredients from omega-3s to resveratrol into everything from energy drinks and cola to completely clear beverages, and keep their labels clean, said Bromley.
Omega-3 will ultimately be the ingredient that puts us on the map
Virun - which is backed by private equity money, and typically works by developing exclusive arrangements with customers covering its technology in specific applications - has also taken the unusual step of taking equity stakes in three beverage customers using its technology, one of which is start-up Change Cola, which has developed what is claimed to be the first cola with long-chain omega-3s.
Said Bromley: “All of the ingredients we work with are growing fast, for example, we’ve got CoQ10 in the Bang energy drink, but I think omega-3 will ultimately be the ingredient that puts us on the map, more than likely due to a particular entity that is going to introduce it to beverages. I can’t name them, but they have been working with us for a very long time.
“For 10 years, it’s been us begging other companies to ride their coat tails. And now we have companies wanting to partner with us and be associated with us, which is just amazing.”
Pay to play?
So from his experience of working with many small beverage companies, how tough is it to make your mark in a category dominated by global players such as Coke and Pepsi?
Said Bromley: “You have to start small and build slowly. I think people go into it thinking they need to get their product into Kroger and Walmart and CVS and that’s the only way they can be successful, but these companies have slotting fees, they don’t care if they have your product or not and they want to hold huge inventory for holding that space.”
No one see your product, it just sits there
And the cash and morale-sapping experience often only gets worse, he added: “So you have to pay them money to sell your product, then they give you a little teeny spot on the shelf and you’re there between Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestlé and Ocean Spray and no one see your product, it just sits there, and it kills brands.
”Most likely you won’t be there in six or nine months.”
Most successful brands developed by entrepreneurs such as Honest Tea (now owned by Coca-Cola), he said, “start out in Whole Foods, or other natural stores, where they can get more shelf space, maybe four skus instead of one, more targeted ad support towards a specific demographic, they build slowly, and then they talk to Kroger.”
How tough is it to launch a new beverage brand? Find out what Odwalla founder Greg Steltenpohl thinks at the FoodNavigator-USA Beverage Entrepreneurs Forum on July 23. Register HERE for free.
Click HERE to read more about Virun at BeverageDaily.com