Omega-3 drink sales are forecast to increase by 34 per cent over the five-year period ending 2011, say preliminary figures released from the drink industry analysts Zenith International. The findings state that sales volumes for the segment are expected increase by 6.5 per cent in 2007 alone, amounting to 2.3m litres. This growth is expected to help drive growth in the wider functional beverage market, according to Zenith. Omega 3, a predominantly marine-sourced fatty acid, is being increasingly linked to a wide range of health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and certain cancers, joint health, and improved behaviour and moods. Zenith market intelligence director Gary Roethenbaugh said that it was the association of these health benefits with omega-3 consumption that made the segment a "key route" for driving functional drinks into the consumer mainstream. "Still a niche sector in relative terms, [Omega-3] holds considerable potential for further development, with a wide range of applications open across the food and drinks spectrum," he stated. International demand In terms of regional markets for the product, Zenith said that North America continued to dominate demand for omega-3 beverages, accounting for 32.8 per cent of the market. This growth was linked by Zenith to a strong tradition in the country of using the fatty acid in juice-based drinks. As a result of this formulation culture, Zenith said that it expected the current general annual consumption rate of the product in the country to grow to 2.9 litres per person by 2011, from 2.2 litres currently. Western Europe remained the second largest market, with a 23.7 per cent share of global demand, driven primarily by prebiotic products, according to the analyst. The combined markets of Asia/Australasia accounted for 22.7 per cent of volumes, said the report. Future Expansion Continued growth expected within the segment is expected to occur from the further penetration of omega-3 into milk and juice-based beverages, Zenith said. The analysts conceded though that its predictions for strong growth in the market could still prove conservative, depending on the performance of omega-3 beverages in burgeoning markets like Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.