The Norwegian company started out in 1838, trading dried fish and gradually specialised in refining cod liver oil and other marine oil products. The first shipment of concentrated omega-3 products to the U.S. began in the mid 1980s.
A big turning point came in 2005, when EPAX, which had gone through other changes in ownership, was acquired by Austevoll Seafood AS, which owns its own fishing fleet through Austral - a subsidiary in Peru. It was a key development both for the company's quality control and for its sustainability efforts.
"Prior to this, EPAX sourced its crude oil like almost all other omega-3 refiners: through brokers. It is in the interest of the brokers to keep the producers of the crude oil secret and also keep the flexibility to mix oil from different producers," said Baldur Hjaltason, sales manager for EPAX.
EPAX has become a world leader based on its line of fish oil products with specific ratios of EPA to DHA to address a range of health conditions. It was vital that EPAX be able to control and identify the source of the raw material both to ensure quality and to better meet the growing market demand for transparency in the supplement supply chain.
"The key to this is batch documentation starting when the fishing boats catch and land the anchovy at the Austral plant in Peru," Hjaltason said.
EPAX now sources almost all of its crude oil from anchovies caught by Austral near Peru, with a small amount coming from tuna canners. Anchovies are plentiful and reproduce in vast numbers in the rich waters off the coast of Peru, and that country actively manages catch limits, fishing zones and seasons to ensure the sustainability of the fishery.
It all adds quality and green cachet of EPAX's signature EPA/DHA products.
"In 2003, the company decided to leave the 'well-being' market and focus only on condition-specific products backed by clinical documentation," Hjaltason said. "While this considerably reduced the volume sold, it enabled the company to focus on the higher value sector of the market and utilised its expertise better."
A previous ownership arrangement was important for this development, too. "EPAX was previously part of Pronova Biocare," Hjaltason said. "During those years a great amount of clinical work was done on EPAX products that were used in the branded goods," including Lovanza, Pronova's branded omega-3 pharmaceutical.
"We are convinced that focusing on the condition-specific formulas was the right decision," Hjaltason said. "The success of Lovanza, the prescription omega-3 drug, has educated the doctors about the importance of omega-3 condition-specific supplements. This part of the market will grow faster in future than the well-being market, although it is much smaller today."