The recent ruling by Health Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the US FDA charged with overseeing food and nutrition, that approves the claim that flax diet reduces cholesterol, is expected to drive the market for flax seed and flax seed oil. The ruling, coming after two years of study following a claim for allowance regarding therapeutic benefits, followed after a meta-study examination of eight clinical studies using an average 40 gram daily diet of ground flax seeds in hypercholesterolemic patients. The metastudy concluded that both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were lowered in pooling data from the eight studies.
The implications for market expansion for flax are significant since in its ruling Health Canada also noted that 39% of all Canadians between the ages of 6 to 79 have unhealthy cholesterol levels. Canada has a population of approximately 39 million people; assuming 90% of them fall within this age range and assuming a diet of 40 g per day as recommended, this would result in a potential 220,000 tons of annual demand within Canada for health and wellness reasons.
Flax as a source of essential oils has over the past 10 years been flagged as an alternative to fish oils, based on their availability, cost to produce, and potential for higher purity extracts. However, it has lagged behind fish-derived omega-3 oils in terms of claims and marketing. This new ruling will undoubtedly strengthen flax’s competitive positioning in the market place.
The fish oil nutraceutical market is now over $1B in annual sales. Companies such as BASF have increasingly raised the stakes and benchmarks for this market with its acquisition in 2012 of fish oil omega-3 producer Pronova for $844M, and its subsequent acquisition of Equatec, another concentrated fish oil omega-3 producer for an undisclosed sum in order to gain access to its novel chromatographic technology to produce ultrapure oils. These come after BASF’s initial foray into fish oils via its acquisition of Cognis in 2010 for €3B.
It is of interest to note that BASF stands at the threshold of the pharmaceutical industry, as Pronova is the primary producer of GlaxoSmithKlines’ blockbuster drug Lovaza for the treatment of hypertriglyceridemia. Thus the line between food and pharmaceuticals continues to blur as we’ve noted before. A leitmotif we expect to see increasingly in the future is food as pharmaceutical; evolving along the path of; food to extract to increasingly purified and therapeutically active extract to final purified active ingredient. The recent ruling on flaxseed oil will certainly give BASF and others in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries a run for their money.