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Choice employees guide Marine Ingredients into top-growing fish oil company

Marine Ingredients’ 2016 merger with KD Pharma made for a successful 2017, driving the company to win the NBJ Large Company Growth Award.

A company’s success or failure certainly can float on the product category a business is in, but at the end of the day it’s people that run the business, and top-shelf people can help make a business viable and profitable for the long term.

So it is with Marine Ingredients, a pioneer in the omega-3 fish oil business and the No. 3 omega ingredient supplier in the world—and this year’s NBJ Large Company Growth Award recipient.

In 2016, Marine Ingredients merged with KD Pharma, known for its concentrates like Lovaza generics, and is closing in on $150 million in annual top-line sales. The company experienced solid double-digit growth in 2017.

People power the fish world

The omega-3 category got its start as a successful supplement concern almost 50 years ago when Danish researcher Jorn Dyerberg and his team set sail for Greenland to study the indigenous Inuit people there. They found that, despite consuming very few fruits and vegetables, and a whole lot of fat from marine species, only 5 percent of Inuits died from heart disease, compared to 40 percent of Americans. The researchers supposed the outsized consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from marine animals that predominated in the Inuit diet might account for the favorable heart health. This formed the basis for hundreds of subsequent research studies over the years that validated the cardio benefit of fish oil. In more recent times, Dyerberg has served as a consultant to Marine Ingredients.

“Dr. Dyerberg has been an incredible asset and mentor to Marine Ingredients,” said David Barnes, Ph.D., head of Global Research & Development at Marine Ingredients. “Marine was a small organization, so to have such a resource lent us a credibility far beyond our size.”

Marine Ingredients was founded back in 1982 by Olav Sandnes and Bruce Miller. The two have been so closely linked to the omega-3 industry for so long that it’s hard for insiders to think about the fish oil supply business without considering the influence of those two on the market. Miller passed away last November.

“While hard to quantify,” said Barnes, “I think there is real and meaningful value to our industry to have people like Bruce, with his sterling character and reputation, represent and being in many ways the face of our industry. He will be sorely missed by many.”

Miller worked in sales, but he was no transactional salesman. Humble and personable, he worked as a partner to help omega-3 marketers develop innovative products and bring them to market. In no small part, he helped to create an entire business category that’s been a leading part of the overall dietary supplements business for nearly 20 years.

“What defined Bruce was he was trusted by everyone down the value chain” said Adam Ismail, executive director of the omega-3 trade group, GOED. “Very few people have been trusted or respected more. A lot of competitors looked at Bruce and said he was who they strive to emulate.”

A merger success story

The combined synergy of KD Pharma and Marine is emblematic of a maturing industry, and it will allow the company to participate in the M&A activity that’s surely still to come, insiders say. The KD technology offers flexibility to provide unique and differentiated products in the marketplace, while Marine brings deep market knowledge and business relationships. The company now sells a wide range of omega-3 solutions—arguably any variety outside of those locked down in patents.

“We can serve customers’ needs from the latest high-concentrate drugs entering the market to new premium cod liver oil to novel omega-3 products with high DPA to the most common natural and low concentrate blends,” said Barnes. “Indeed, there are also some attractive opportunities in the plant oil space that might also benefit from our tool box.”

Marine has long been known for its ethical and sustainable sourcing of oil, and doubled down on that ethos with the recent launch of the only Marine Stewardship Council-certified Pacific cod liver oil. Every batch in Marine’s stable is tested for more than 450 contaminants by third-party analytical laboratories, and is NSF-certified, GOED- and Prop 65-compliant.

“Part of why they’ve grown so quickly is they don’t play the same game everyone else is playing,” said Ismail. “They differentiate. They have a pretty sophisticated strategy, and they execute it well. They are more of a partner to their customers in that they help them develop new solutions. That’s what they’re known for in the omega-3 industry.”

The Marine Ingredients/KD Pharma story so impressed Ismail that he is set to leave his post at GOED to join the company as the KD Pharma Chief Strategy Officer. That says much, and represents a reason to believe the long-term business outlook of Marine Ingredients and KD Pharma will continue to be sustainable, ethical and profitable.

This article is from the February issue of Nutrition Business Journal. Download the full issue with all of the 2017 NBJ Award winners for free here.

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