Oil baron

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Docosahexaenoic acid

Oil baron
Health conscious consumers must weigh up whether they get omega 3 (O-3) from fortified food or supplements. Martin Jamieson, president and chief executive of Ocean Nutrition Canada (ONC), which claims to be the world's largest O-3 ingredient supplier, heads a company specialising in both.

While processing is mainly based in Nova Scotia, Canada, one of ONC's priorities is developing the European market for eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the long-chain O-3s humans must ingest. Two months ago, for example, its application to market DHA-rich O-3 oil in Europe derived from Schizochytrium microalgae was provisionally approved by the UK's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes. Provided this is finalised, and given that a similar application by Martek Biosciences was initially waved through in 2003 this looks likely, Jamieson will spearhead his firm's drive to fully commercialise the ingredient.

If anyone has the experience to do this effectively, it is Jamieson, who by his own admission is "just north of 50"​ and has been immersed in the food industry since he was 17.

Having gained a food technology degree at Cheshire College of Agriculture, he then garnered a degree in food marketing management at Sheffield Hallam University. He went on to hold high profile positions including md for Pillsbury, UK and Ireland and head of Häagen Dazs Europe, and president of Pillsbury Canada. Directly before taking the helm at ONC in July 2010, he was executive vice-president, brands and marketing for Canada's top retailer Loblaw, which operates 1,400 stores. "I was responsible for the private label division, which includes one of the biggest brands in Canada, President's Choice,"​ he says.

His background in retail and manufacturing has enabled him to see the supply chain from both sides, and in particular to see the marketing of products from every angle. As you would expect, therefore, he dissects the issues surrounding the promotion of O-3, namely taste, and sustainability with expert, yet personable efficiency.

Concerning the first topic, O-3 has been scrutinised because so much stress has been put on fish sources. Securing sustainable fish supplies has become a political hot potato, because overfishing is depleting reserves of fish in the world's oceans.

This has fuelled a lot of the impetus to move towards vegetarian sources of O-3 hence ONC's current interest in Schizochytrium microalgae. O-3 fish oils ultimately come from the algae the fish eat, so why not just go to the source, the company argues.

But where it gets O-3 ingredients from fish, which it markets under its MEG-3 brand, it is working towards full sustainability. A third of its stocks come from a huge Peruvian anchovy farm, says Jamieson. "It's the largest fishery of any species anywhere in the world and the most well-managed. The anchovy population off the coast of Peru is growing fast."

In addition, ONC is in the second stage of Marine Stewardship Council certification for all its products.

The ecological side of things may be catered for, but how does Jamieson deal with perennial consumer gripes that products containing fish oils taste, well, fishy? "We have three technologies. One makes food-grade oil, which is heavily deodorised and used for yellow fats and oils.

"We have emulsion technology that micro-encapsulates O-3 and is used for products such as dairy foods. And we have another technology, which converts O-3 into powder, where every grain is a micro-globule of O-3 encased in a colourless, odourless shell. That enables it to go through heavy processing without being broken down. It's only in the intestine that the shell breaks."

Such methods mean consumers aren't put off by unpleasant tastes and smells in food and drink, he says.

He defers tricky technical issues to his expert scientific team, typifying his view of leadership. "I rarely make a decision alone I work with the rest of the team and most decisions are taken by them."​ His hand-picked specialists include 41 scientists and 17 PhD-level researchers. "We have the biggest privately-held marine research unit in North America.

"Leaders think that when they get into executive office it's all about strategy, the hard bit. Actually strategy is only about 20% of what success is about. Around 80% is execution, which is about having the relevant resources and communication and people knowing what to do. I push accountability back down the business."

That may sound like management jargon, but Jamieson's words are borne out by the fact that a fair amount of actions are being executed within the business. For starters, it has grown to its current position in just over 14 years, having been founded in 1997. In February, it announced its latest move: the acquisition of a fish oil plant in Piura, Peru, enabling it to offer customers an integrated supply chain, from primary processing to finished ingredient. This gives ONC four factories on two continents.

"We are looking at new refining technologies,"​ adds Jamieson. "We use a process called molecular distillation and we are looking constantly at improvements in that area and applying that to food. We work closely with international branded food companies like PepsiCo and Unilever."

In terms of geographical growth, Jamieson's focus is Europe, especially after the European Food Safety Authority in 2009–2010 established O-3 recommended daily intake levels and levels necessary to make nutrition claims for products. "The European market without question offers the best growth in the short term. It's more embryonic than North America, but it only takes one or two players to make inroads and it will take off."

ONC supplies the O-3 for China's popular cooking oil Arowana and Jamieson adds: "A product like that could have huge potential [in Europe]."

Applications could also include processed fish; baked goods; fruit juices and drinks and yellow fats and spreads and ONC is in close talks with select customers here, he says.

Evidence for health benefits grows daily, offering more potential. Recent studies have looked at O-3's ability to help prevent breast cancer, inflammatory complaints such as arthritis, asthma and dermititis and even hyperactivity in kids, he says.

With so much business development and hard science on his mind, you could be forgiven for thinking he has room for little else. In fact, his family, including wife Janine, who he met at Sheffield Hallam, and has herself worked for UK retailers Asda, Marks & Spencer and Thorntons, are constantly in his thoughts. "My wife has a degree in food marketing, but retrained in library sciences and is now running a big public library in Nova Scotia. I have two girls and a boy, Holly, Lizzy and Andrew, who are 17, 19 and 20."

They have lived in Canada so long they have fully absorbed the culture and Jamieson and two of his children play ice hockey regularly.

But his extracurricular activities don't end there. "I'm a big fly fisherman and living on the east coast of Canada is good for that."

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