Ismail, who was the first employee of GOED—formally known as the Global Organization of EPA and DHA Omega-3s—guided the group through a period of phenomenal growth. The organization had 12 founding members, led by Ocean Nutrition Canada’s founder Robert Orr (the company is now part of DSM). From that beginning, it has grown to a group of about 200 members, even as the underlying market in omega-3s went through a major correction in the meantime.
“The market has had some ups and downs, but I would argue it’s in a similar position to where it’s always been. When GOED started, the omega-3 industry was one driven by science and that’s still true today,” Ismail told NutraIngredients-USA.
Investing in the category
In addition to growing his own organization, Ismail was instrumental in driving investment into the category as well. A notable example was bringing together a consortium of companies to put up funds for a national advertising campaign to counteract the market slide, which began to take hold in 2013. The market slide was initiated by negative publicity surrounding some null study results, and was abetted by the dearth of supportive advertising coming from within the industry. The omega-3s sector had basically been relying on the groundswell of positive press about the benefits of the nutrients. There was little of the sort of brand recognition type advertising common to other types of consumer packaged goods, and when the mainstream press was no longer running stories about omega-3s, consumers started to lose their connection to the category.
The campaign, called ‘Always Omega-3,’ had a successful test run in North Carolina and then was rolled out nationwide in 2015. While the category has not returned to the double digit growth pattern it experienced in the 2000s, the campaign was successful in halting the market decline. The new, more quiescent growth pattern can be seen as symptomatic of a market that is approaching maturity.
“I do think there is a lot of strong growth potential left in the market because there are so many clinical trials being conducted. Every year since GOED was founded the amount of research being done was greater than the year past. That’s not a trend we see dying anytime in the future,” Ismail said.
The case for cooperation
GOED was founded on the notion that cooperation could help grow the overall market, making a bigger pie for all companies to compete for shares in. Forging basic agreements on the specification and minimum quality parameters of the ingredients has been a model that other organizations have sought to emulate. Ismail said this was partially due to the unique nature of the ingredients themselves.
“We were a working group within CRN and we spun off from that organization. The rationale was that this was a unique class of nutrients made in a very specific way. I think we have been pretty successful in making sure everyone’s voice has been heard in the omega-3s industry,” Ismail said.
“I was the first employee, and now we have eight. We also have four highly developed committees with dozens of companies participating,” he said.
From the outset, Ismail said communication about the ingredients has been the cornerstone of GOED’s mission. Whereas other organizations might spend a lot of time on government relations and other back room type efforts, GOED sought first and foremost to speak to end users and to the healthcare practitioners who advise them.
“Our real challenge has been trying to get consumers to learn that EPA and DHA are important nutrients and there are not that many sources of them in the diet,” Ismail said.
There have been some significant wins along the way in that process, Ismail said.
“There are more recommended intakes for EPA and DHA in jurisdictions around the world and more approved health claims,” he said.
Solving the sustainability issue
One issue that continues to hover over the industry is a question of sustainability. Companies making algal omega-3s have been part of GOED from beginning, and other sources, such as krill and squid, have come on in the meantime. But the primary source remains fish, with most of the world’s daily servings of EPA and DHA still coming from the Peruvian anchovy fishery. Ismail said even with the aura of impending disaster that characterizes many of the mainstream press reports about the health of oceans, much progress has been made on this front.
“I’ve always felt that if you look at where we are getting EPA and DHA oils out of the ocean the real challenge concerning sustainability has always been a communications one. Ten or 11 years ago it was really hard to get data from the Peruvian authorities about the fishery and now they are being much more transparent. That came from a combination of pressure from activists and cooperation from the industry,” he said.
“You need a large, well developed industry to support the extraction of fish oils. You wouldn’t make that kind of investment in a rapidly depleting fishery,” he said.
What true sustainability concerns that arise most likely will be solvable with the right kind of investment and cooperation, Ismail said.
“Industries around the world have shown that if you present a challenge, somebody is going to figure out how to solve it and probably make some money along the way, too,” he said.
Overall, Ismail said he’s confident he has left the category better than he found it. While Ismail is not at liberty to say where he’s going next, he noted that it will still be within the omega-3s industry.
“I’m a passionate believer in omega-3s. My moving on from GOED is not a reflection about my belief in this category. I think fresh blood will be good for the industry and good for the organization,” he said.