That was the key takeaway from a presentation on traceability, delivered at the first NutraIngredients Omega-3 Summit, which was held in Singapore last month.
CEO of technology provider ORIVO, Svein Erik Haugmo, CEO of finished product brand Newscience, Juan Pablo Salas, and MD of ingredient supplier Golden Omega, Jorge Brahm, used a case study involving their respective firms to illustrate the importance of traceability across the supply chain, and the technology they had used to achieve this.
After establishing a traceability testing technology for omega-3 in 2016, ORIVO started working with GOED members in 2017 to expand the technology to cover omega-3 concentrates.
One such member was Golden Omega, a specialist in pure anchovy from the South Pacific, whose clients became interested in including proof of traceability proof omega-3 product labels.
This eventually resulted in Newscience's brand, Omega Ultra Pure, becoming one of the world's first omega-3 products to carry ORIVO's South Pacific Anchovy logo as a testament to its traceability.
Explaining why traceability was now more important than ever, Haugmo said: "ORIVO is all about origin — consumers require certification that informs them of where their omega-3 comes from.
"We offer origin certification for omega-3 supplements because consumers are becoming more aware of where their product purchases are coming from. They are demanding to know more about the food they buy, and omega-3 supplements are no exception."
Haugmo attributed the trend and its continued acceleration to millennial buyers.
"I believe the generation we call 'millennials' are responsible for this — they represent the first generation to have grown up in an information-based society. They have been living with an overflow of information all their lives, and they are used to having knowledge and information about anything just a few clicks away.
"They're responding to all this information by saying they don't want more glossy commercials — they want the facts, the truth, and a story they can believe in; it doesn't have to be amazing, but it must be authentic."
Indeed, statistics show millennials hold over 30% of the world's total consumer purchasing power, with Accenture positing that in the US alone, they are responsible for an estimated US$1 trillion in spending.
Haugmo added that while omega-3 firms were responding to this trend, some were resorting to unethical methods in doing so: "If there is money to be made in promoting the origin of a product, there is money to be made in promoting the fake origin of a product."
However, he also said that focus on origin was not a new phenomenon: "It is like food in general — before globalisation and today's efficient supply chains, you had to focus on the raw materials that could be found locally.
"When it comes to the modern history of omega-3 supplements, the last few decades have seen a technology-driven race for increasingly higher concentrations of EPA and DHA.
"Today, there is a clear focus on origin once more, with consumers demanding a products with stories behind them."
Catering to the consumer
Regarding how ORIVO is responding to consumer demand, Haugmo said technology was at the forefront of the firm's efforts to ensure as much traceability across the supply chain as possible.
ORIVO uses a technology called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to test fish oil in a way akin to how an MRI scan is used to assess patients: the fish oil is analysed to produce highly detailed information about the chemical structures it contains.
Haugmo said: "Over the two last decades, we have — together with the largest R&D institute in Scandinavia — shown that NMR can be used to create unique fingerprints of various omega-3 sources, all categorised in our reference database.
"After collecting a number of reference samples, we analyse them with NMR before applying our algorithms, which give us unique fingerprints that tell us the species and geographic origin of these fish oils. We can then analyse unknown samples and match them against these fingerprints."
This, he said, was where ORIVO's industry partners like Golden Omega and Newscience played a crucial role.
In order to verify that Newscience uses only South Pacific anchovy in its Omega Ultra Pure products, for instance, ORIVO must first match Golden Omega's products to its South Pacific anchovy fingerprint by analysing the latter's samples before certifying its bulk product.
Then, through a 'mystery shopping' process, ORIVO buys Omega Ultra Pure products at random pharmacies in Chile and puts them through the same sample analysis before matching them with the Golden Omega fingerprint.
Differentiation meeting demand
Salas said"not all omega-3s are created equal", adding that the omega-3 market had long been plagued by a lack of clean-label products and third-party certification on purity, concentration and origin, as well as a mentality of 'the more (products), the merrier'.
However, he further said things had changed drastically: "Now, we are seeing more and more customers wanting to understand more about sustainability, traceability, and science-backed claims. Companies must differentiate themselves in order to remain viable. In our case, purity is a key differentiation driver.
"In Chile, fish intake is quite low; on average, Chileans eat fish once every two weeks, and it's very hard to change a longstanding habit."
Still, he believes that by building a value chain with purity as the key driver and by working with strategic, renowned partners such as Golden Omega and ORIVO, it is possible to increase omega-3 intake.
He also emphasised the importance of third-party testing and certification as a reliable way to maintain a system of checks and balances, thereby ensuring brand credibility in consumers' eyes.
Brahm added to this point, saying, "In Golden Omega's case, we use only high-quality certified crude fish oil produced from 100% anchovy from selected Chilean and Peruvian fish oil producers.
"We also ensure full traceability across a very efficient crude oil supply chain. We think it's important to maintain very low oxidation parameters and an outstanding sensory profile for our products, as well as to develop innovative delivery formats so we can improve our value proposition to our customers."
Response to refinement
Haugmo also touched upon the consumer response so far to ORIVO's efforts in ensuring maximum transparency regarding omega-3 traceability.
He mentioned that the ORIVO certification was the world's only certification based on origin testing of consumer-ready products, and was promoted via unique product logos with four-digit codes on each ORIVO-certified omega-3 product.
"We know this certification actually matters to consumers — we have had many people using the four-digit codes on our website to view the online certificates for the products they've purchased, to learn what's behind the logo on the products they hold in their hands."