Equazen claims much of the credit for the consumer on its home turf in the UK; its eye q supplement brand is the market leader, claiming around 30 per cent of the market. The sale to Galenica, the terms of which have not been disclosed, looks set to propel the brand into new international markets.
According to Euromonitor International, the omega-3 market grew by 243 per cent between 2003 and 2005. The sector has proved energetic at all levels of the supply chain, with a spate of deals between fish oil suppliers, technology providers, and manufacturers.
Much of the buzz has stemmed from scientific research into the benefits of omega-3, and Equazen's products have been used in some most groundbreaking studies, particularly in the Oxford-Durham study, which concluded that omega-3 can aid children's behaviour and concentration.
Founded in 1999, Equazen's 2005 sales ex factory were £8.7m (c €12.9m). As well as eye q for cognitive function, its range is made up of other consumer- and condition-specific products, such as cardiozen for cardiovascular health, mumomega for pregnancy and equavision for eye health.
In a climate where there are clear opportunities to be seized but where the market is becoming increasingly crowded, Equazen considered its options to leverage its success to date for the future.
"As a family-run company we had to look very closely at our ability to hold our position in the UK trade sector and thought it would be wiser to run with a larger group," founder and CEO Adam Kelliher told NutraIngredients.com.
Galenica, a public listed company with a strong presence in the Swiss health care market, had a 2005 turnover of €1.4bn. It is currently making inroads into the UK OTC sector: with Equazen added to the Potters herbal medicine company it acquired in 2003 it ranks amongst the top 15 OTC healthcare companies in the UK.
Equazen had several approaches, but some were interested solely in the brand and would have shut down operations, which would have meant lack of continuity in staff and standing in the marketplace.
Kelliher described Galenica as "well-resourced, deeply committed to OTC naturals, and a perfect fit for accelerating the growth of Equazen".
On an international level Equazen has a strong distribution presence in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. But Galenica is present in 90 countries, "so it has a lot of strength in areas we don't".
In particular, the transaction gives scope for entry into untouched parts of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Kelliher will stay on to lead Equazen through a transitional period of at least six month.
But he will still have an ongoing commercial relationship with the company since after this he will shift his attention to Equateq, the company he started in January to focus on research and cutting-edge applications of omega-3.
When Equazen acquired the oil processing plant and research facility in the Outer Hebrides, Equazen was to be Equateq's main customer, using 60 per cent of the oil produced.
Despite the mounting interest, Kelliher said that the sector is still in its infancy as more research brings to light different applications for human health.
Part of the challenge is commercialising that research: "Research has to have relevance for people buying products," he said.