Omega Protein, the Houston-based menhaden fish oil and fish meal producer, is continuing its foray into human nutrition products with the acquisition of Wisconsin Specialty Protein, a whey producer based in Reedsburg, WI.
Omega Protein, which for many years was primarily a fishing company and fish meal processor, has pursued the strategy of moving into higher-value human nutrition markets for several years starting with its acquisition of Cyvex Nutrition in 2010. But the company has had decades of experience dealing with protein from its menhaden fishery, said Bret Scholtes CEO of Omega Protein.
“Approximately two thirds of our revenue comes from protein sources, primarily fish meal. The research and development team has been working with protein for as long as I can remember,” Scholtes told NutraIngredients-USA.
“We work with nutritionists to try to understand how our products and our competitors’ products work in the various diets we try to sell into (i.e. human nutrition, aquaculture and pet food).
“So dairy is new as far as a source of nutrients, but the idea of selling protein is not. It’s just a different protein,” Scholtes said.
Feeding people as well as fish
The acquisition is part of a broader view of the company, Scholtes said. Like many other companies in human nutrition, Omega Protein was seeking to derive greater value from the raw materials it was harvesting.
“We view ourselves as a nutritional ingredient company. We believe that everything that we do should be to allow our consumers and their families to live healthier lives, whether that is a product we produce that goes into aquaculture feed that allows somebody to have a healthier piece of fish than they otherwise would, or somebody takes a supplement or now a protein shake,” Scholtes said.
As a company, Omega Protein advertises a commitment to quality and sustainability. It has a Friend of the Sea certification for its menhaden fisheries that includes parameters such as the health of the stocks it harvests along the US Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico and the level of bycatch (generally below 1%). That company philosophy made Wisconsin Specialty Protein a good fit, Scholtes said.
“When we thought about how do we go into the whey protein business, this seemed to be the perfect anchor. They have a plant that could be doing more that it is currently doing,” he said.
“Their focus on sustainability is extremely important to them and that is important to us as well. They get the whey from smaller artisanal cheese manufacturers, so the quality is extremely important to them.
“There is a lot of raw whey that surrounds that plant that is being used for other things than producing whey protein at the moment,” Scholtes said.
When looking to expand its protein expertise into human nutrition markets, Scholtes said whey was the most likely target.
“One, it’s an extremely high quality protein. It has high digestibility,” he said.
“We think whey protein is important for a number of things besides sports nutrition. It can be used in other food applications to help with satiety, to help with weight management.”
Currently, the fish protein that Omega Protein harvests goes exclusively into the aquaculture market. But that might not always be the case, Scholtes said. Developing fish protein as a functional ingredient in human nutrition has some potential, he said.
“Given the nutritional profile of fish, and the amino acid profile and digestibility that is similar to whey in many ways, that is something that hopefully longer term we can figure out more ways to do,” Scholtes said.
The Wisconsin Specialty Protein brand will remain active, Scholtes said, and will not, at least in the short term, be folded into Cyvex Nutrition.