The old adage ‘a sea of opportunities’ rings true for entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia where much of the economy both old and new has been harvested from the ocean. With supporting infrastructure from within the province which offers access to world class marine-related research institutes and the highest concentration of researchers in the sector, the life sciences industry has been poised for growth.
In the Spring of 2009, Scottish native David Elder was working in the manufacturing industry in Toronto when he came across an interesting job in the emerging Omega-3 market based out of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Although the position required some specific technical skills, he was confident that he would be the right fit for the job and pushed to meet with the company. After a successful interview Mr. Elder accepted his new position as the Senior Director of Operations for Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd., a company pioneering the Omega-3 fish oil industry.
Ocean Nutrition was founded in 1997 by John Risley, CEO of Clearwater Fine Foods, one of the world’s leading seafood companies that saw potential in the fledgling Omega-3 market for treating heart disease. Four years into their production the company opened its first micro-encapsulation plant after researchers discovered a breakthrough technology that transformed fish oil into a fine powder. This discovery solidified their role as a leader in the Omega-3 fish oil industry and would attract attention from international investors.
The company’s success would eventually fall onto the radar of one of the world’s biggest and best-known life sciences company’s, Royal DSM. The timing was right as the Dutch group was rolling out their strategic plan to make over a billion dollars in growth enhancing acquisitions to boost their health and nutrition portfolio. Mr.Elder recalls their inaugural visit which took place not long after he joined the Ocean Nutrition team.
“At the time DSM had acquired a company in the U.S. that was focused on algal based Omega-3 and they wanted to add fish oil based Omega-3 to compliment that acquisition, which is how they ended up at Ocean Nutrition”
The meeting was a success and in the Spring of 2012 after 15 years in the Omega 3 fish oil business Ocean Nutrition announced that they had been acquired by Royal DSM for $540 million, one of the largest acquisitions in Atlantic Canadian history.
With the acquisition finalized, the former Ocean Nutrition now had a new multinational infrastructure around business, safety, health and environment to bring the business to the next level of growth. For Mr. Elder, who had been promoted to Senior Director of Manufacturing, including responsibility for the company’s Peruvian Omega 3 manufacturing site, the evolution was impressive. He noted some of the biggest changes to the company were made to marketing and commercializing the Ocean Nutrition brand as well as important improvements to health and safety standards – an area DSM had excelled at with 23,000 employees globally.
“One of the significant impacts was the guidance that they brought to us around business practices and increased safety measures,” said Mr.Elder. “They significantly improved the standards at which we work every day.”
Under DSM’s umbrella the 15-year-old company was quickly evolving as the world’s largest supplier of concentrated fish oils. Their omega-3 product trademarked as Meg-3 boasted the highest quality fish oil Omega-3 on the market and would be hitting shelves across the globe under mega brands such as Walmart, Tropicana, Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola and Costco’s Kirkland. With supply and demand on the rise DSM would soon look to enhance the existing infrastructure making changes and upgrades to the business both internally and externally.
One of their biggest upgrades would be announced in late 2014 when they unveiled plans to expand the Mulgrave manufacturing facility with a $30+ million investment. News of the expansion was celebrated within the industry and solidified DSM as a mainstay in the province. In June, the investment announcement was named the ‘Good News Story of the Year’ at the Good News and Blues industry event put on by BioNova with Mr. Elder in attendance to accept the award.
Through the upgrades DSM plans to increase their capacity of producing Omega 3 fish oil with improved facilities, improved equipment and improved technology. With the company’s huge scale and reach the Omega-3 products will now supply more regions and meet increased demand. For Mr. Elder one of the greatest highlights of the investment is the impact it has had on the local economy and the future it holds for Nova Scotia.
“Most of that money was paid to local contracting companies who supplied skilled tradespeople to construct the facility and provide the mechanical, piping and electrical work. That’s bringing real wealth back into the province and with the improved facility we will continue to do that.”