Inside the DSM/Ocean Nutrition Deal—and Other Important Observations

By Steven Allen, Nutrition Capital Network | June 15, 2012

The recent acquisition of Ocean Nutrition by DSM caps a remarkable story of entrepreneurial endeavor. About 15 years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Orr, co-founder and long-time CEO of Ocean Nutrition, at a conference in Rhode Island (it happened to be the inaugural meeting of what is now known as the NBJ Summit). Robert and his colleagues were very early into developing the business and had not yet settled on fish oils as being its exclusive focus.

Back then we were only beginning to understand the importance of DHA and EPA to human health and most of the research was being focused on infant nutrition. Ocean Nutrition chose to focus its efforts on building up world-class research and manufacturing capabilities, betting that the emerging category would become large and robust. Their skill, dedication and focus have been admirable.

They systematically attacked several problems, such as the fishy odor, and worked relentlessly until they had a solution that kept them ahead of the pack. I’m sure they have some regrets—perhaps chief among them that they were not able to develop the hugely profitable segment for highly purified fish oil that is now used as a prescription drug, a business that is worth in excess of $1 billion dollars.

Nevertheless, Robert, who handed over the reins of CEO to Martin Jamieson in 2010, along with the entire team at Ocean Nutrition, have now earned for their investors their reward. The acquisition by DSM is a logical move given the recent moves DSM has been making in consolidating in this segment of the market.
Verlinvest & Pop Chips
Switching gears, Verlinvest, the Belgian private equity fund that has already made several investments in “better for you” food and beverage companies, has acquired a stake in Pop Chips from TSG. In addition to buying TSG’s stake, Verlinvest made a significant investment in Popchips directly, according to the San Francisco Business Times.

Although details of the transaction have not been revealed, it was thought to be the largest transaction in the Verlinvest portfolio. Pop Chips, which has been growing rapidly and has sales in excess of $100 million annually, has done a phenomenal job of gaining distribution in many different channels and frequently uses the direct store distribution model favored by the beverage giants. It will be interesting to see how the company approaches its next stage of growth and development and prepares for a sale to a large strategic buyer.
My Recent Trip to Spain
On a personal note, I just returned from three weeks in Spain. My wife and I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, which, after Rome and Jerusalem, is one of the holiest sites in Christendom. It was an exhausting experience, as we averaged about 20 km of walking a day, but the spiritual reward more than made up for the physical effort.

We ate at some expensive restaurants but most of our food was consumed in simple establishments. I was struck by how much meat we consumed, especially as we began our trek and were quite a long way from the sea. But I was also impressed by how many times we saw a Celiac menu, confirming the high level of interest in nutrition among the general population.

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