Notable Edible: MassOMEGA
The wonderful thing about second acts is that they rarely continue along the same path as the first. The computer salesman turned garlic farmer, the Broadway costume designer who’s now a cranberry farmer and even the pharmaceutical executive transformed into magazine publisher. That’s why when two engineers, one electrical and the other mechanical, looked for a fresh start, they turned from semiconductors to the world of fish oil with their company MassOMEGA…eventually.
Steve Daly and Bill Hannabach met while working for Hittite Microwave, a Massachusetts-based company that designs and develops integrated circuits, modules for radio frequency, microwave and millimeter wave applications. Eventually, Hannabach become Vice President of Global Operations, and Daly was named CEO and Chairman of the Board. They helped steer the company from a private entity to a publicly traded company in 2005 with $250 million in revenues. After eight years as CEO, Daly started to look for the next challenge. He and Hannabach eyed the pet food industry as a potential area to explore.
“We were hunting for a project, and we were interested in dog food,” Daly recalls while sitting at the dining table of his Orleans vacation home. “We wondered, ‘what could we do different?’” In researching sources of low-cost protein for dog food, the two found that dogfish sold for 19 cents per pound. They also noticed the rather large liver that the dogfish had. This in turn prompted them to look into area fisheries with an eye towards enhancing the utilization of the harvest, extracting the oils rich in omega-3s from the dogfish livers.
Studies have shown for some time the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil. Omega-3 helps fight against coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis, and more discoveries continue to be made.
The dogfish liver, while a good source of omega-3, would not hold in the build out of the business model. Enter the winter skate. Winter skate, along with tuna, has the highest amount of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 along with omega-6, -7 and -9. Through the same testing methods, the pair discovered that winter skate had twice the amount of essential oils than that of dogfish. They had their source of fish oil to extract, purify and manufacture into softgel caps. After a lengthy search, they found the ideal place to build the facility to purify and process the fish oil, just outside Augusta, Maine. Apparently, the procedure to create the dietary supplement can be a bit harsh on the nose. As Daly confirms, “We needed to be sensitive to the neighbors.”
With the target source of fish oil identified, the manufacturing facility secured, and the process to produce fish oil supplements refined, it was time to increase the amount of livers they were purchasing. The wings of the skate are the only parts of the fish that are normally harvested. Daly and Hannabach contacted fishermen throughout New England, including Chatham, to collect the livers of the skate they catch as well. The rest of the carcass gets tossed overboard. A catch of 5000-10,000 pounds of winter skate can produce 200-400 pounds of livers, increasing the fishermen’s revenues by 4-8%. Utilizing a part of the skate that would otherwise go unused not only betters human health, but also improves prosperity of fishermen.
In March of this year, MassOMEGA launched their fish oil supplement, the only one produced in New England. In fact, the major brands you find on the shelves are foreign companies that source their fish oil from Peruvian anchovies, sardines and mackerel, all of which fall far short in the production of natural omega-3 compared to the winter skate. Within the first month MassOMEGA was in 17 stores, including Chatham Village Market, Nauset Farms, Wellfleet Marketplace, and the Organic Markets in Dennisport and Mashpee Commons on Cape Cod.
One in eight Americans take a fish oil supplement daily. The discovery of the winter skate’s impressive amounts of naturally occurring omega-3, -6, -7 and -9 can be the tide that lifts all boats…from a fisherman’s finances to our own heart health. With MassOMEGA, maybe Daly and Hannabach have done more than that. Perhaps this can also be the clarion call for more outside research into local fisheries to find even more ways to further exploit otherwise wasted parts of the catch.