The long list of uses for Ocean Nutrition’s fish oil makes the Maritime company’s star product sound more like snake oil than entrepreneurial gold. A glance at the company’s books should convince even the toughest skeptics otherwise.
Ocean was co-founded in 1997 by East Coast entrepreneurs and food industry veterans Robert Orr and John Risley, of Clearwater Seafoods fame. Since then, the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, company has ballooned from a four-man operation into a global heavyweight that’s showing no signs of giving up its stranglehold on the world market for fish oil-based omega-3s. These fatty acids are necessary for human health, but since the body can’t make them on its own, they must be consumed. “Billion-dollar ingredients only come along every 10 to 20 years,” says Orr, the company’s chairman, “and omega-3s have the potential to be a billion-dollar ingredient worldwide.”
Employees: 350 Year founded: 1997 Home base: Dartmouth, Nova Scotia Revenue: $150 million+ Tonnes of fish they buy and process each year: 40,000 Number of countries in which they sell products: 40 Portion of sales that come from Canada: 5% Number of scientists at their research facility: 50
Key to Ocean Nutrition’s success has been its pioneering refining process that removes the fishy taste from the oil. That, plus a stellar marketing strategy, has made Ocean Nutrition’s supplement a sought-after ingredient for food companies producing everything from orange juice and margarine to bread, high-end chocolate bars, yogurt and milk.
- Customers and competition are global. Ocean Nutrition has achieved global dominance despite the fact that sales in Canada are minuscule and likely to remain so, due largely to Ottawa’s regulatory system for certain foods.
- Ignore conventional wisdom. “If I had a dollar for everybody who told me we couldn’t do what we wanted to do, then I’d be retired,” says Orr. “But we wouldn’t have a business today.”
- Add value on multiple fronts. The secret to Ocean Nutrition’s success, says Orr, lies in its ability to communicate the value of its product to clients, and helping those food companies get the word out to their customers. “We work to create value for our food customers not just by selling an ingredient, but by selling them a whole batch of services.”