According to Grand View Research, rising demand in China, which already commands 10% of global consumption, is expected to drive overall Asia-Pacific omega-3 growth at an annualised rate of 7.5% between 2015 and 2022.
To feed local demand for krill oil, government agencies have ramped up their exploitation of the massive Antarctic krill biomass, selling their harvest to companies on the mainland.
“Krill provides very good quality protein that can be processed into food and medicine. The Antarctic is a treasure house for all human beings, and China should go there and share,” said Liu Shenli, chairman of the China National Agricultural Development Group.
Over the last year, the state-owned enterprise has harvested around 32,000 tonnes of krill from Antarctic waters. Speaking to China Daily, Liu revealed that CNADG intends to increase this annual capacity by up to 60 times in the next few years.
Among the companies to benefit from China’s push into krill oil is Shanghai-based Fully Biomedical Technology Company, which was established in 2013 and is waiting for regulatory approval for the launch of its products.
“The government sources the krill from the Antarctic and sells the material to us and other companies,” said Yannic, the company’s general manager, who goes by a single name.
“Based on research from a third party, our products have a higher amount of PC— phosphatidylcholines—due to our innovative extraction process.”
Whereas one of the constant criticisms levelled at Chinese manufacturing is an often cavalier approach to intellectual property belonging to others, the country’s omega-3 manufacturers have impressed the likes of GOED, the global industry association, based on their approach to innovation.
“I think the results will be exciting for the omega-3 space going forward,” wrote GOED’s Adam Ismail in a 2014 blog post after visiting the Hi China trade show.
“I talked with multiple companies that have already brought exciting innovations to market, like phospholipids that naturally contain 50% EPA+DHA levels and new concentration techniques that allow companies to reach 97% concentrations with very little wasted EPA and DHA.
“The key aspect to these innovations is that they were not developed by trying to replicate products already on the market, but instead were focused on trying to solve market challenges.”
“You can say they are following our lead,” said Tim de Haas, vice-president for business development at Aker Biomarine.
According to De Haas, increasingly “careful and educated” omega-3 buyers are driving industry demand for products like Aker’s Superba range in China.
“If you talk to the big players, they have a very in-depth knowledge both from a technical and scientific side,” he says. “For Chinese brands, food safety, traceability alongside documented health benefits is extremely important. They are very carefully selecting where they source their raw material from.”
Aker hopes that it will gain approval for Superba 2 in the next 12 months to replace its current line. For the new products, it has developed proprietary Flexitech technology at its Houston factory which extracts the salts that give krill oil its distinctive taste and smell but which don’t bring health benefits. Superba 2 also has an improved colour and reduced viscosity.
Already available in European and American markets, the line gives Aker “a unique possibility to enter the Chinese market because these products are in line with the regulatory requirements of health foods that basically no other krill oil supplier can do,” De Haas said.
By this, he is referring to China’s strict regulatory requirements for aspects like arsenic, which is not differentiated in terms of organic and inorganic versions.
“The total arsenic is a key component and we basically need to be below Chinese regulations in China to sell it in soft gel capsules and apply for Blue Hat registration. As far as I know, we are the only ones who have this kind of product offering,” he added.
Regarding the quality of the raft of new Chinese krill oil products reaching the market, De Haas says that it is for others to judge, but cites an incident in the Australian market where a product sourced from China was recalled because it didn’t meet regulatory requirements.
“Everyone needs to judge for themselves where they source their krill oil products from. We are the only supplier with the full ownership from the beginning to the end, so can control the quality of our product,” he said.