In a deal with privately held Texas supermarket chain H-E-B, Qualitas is putting out four new dietary supplements under the alGeepa brand name. The supplements are built around the benefits of the company’s Almega PL ingredient, an algal form of EPA that has a highly bioavailable phospholipid/glycolipid chemical structure.
Retail deal crowns company’s comeback
CEO Miguel Calatayud was brought on to help Qualitas reach the development finish line. Among the things he brought with him were relationships built through several decades in the food business, including a relationship with H-E-B.
“I’ve been working with H-E-B for many years and we have a great relationship with them. They really believe in the product. We are going to be launching in 180 stores now and in May and we will go into the rest of the stores H-E-B has in the United States. They have about 340 stores, some of which are in Mexico, so the total distribution will be about 285 to 290 stores,” Catalayud told NutraIngredients-USA.
One of the issues Catalayud had to deal with was a problem with the company’s algae production facility in West Texas. The open pond facility is located on non arable land with access to brackish groundwater appropriate to the company’s proprietary photosynthetic marine species of algae called Nannochloropsis oculata. The species yields an oil rich in EPA (with no DHA) that is bound to phospholipids and glycolipids, known together as polar lipids. These polar lipids have hydrophilic heads and hydrophobic tails, which reportedly enhance solubility, bioavailability and incorporation into tissues/membranes.
The company completed a successful NDI notification on the ingredient in June 2014. Qualitas notes that its NDI notification is valid only for Almega PL’s specific composition and manufacturing process. Other aspects of Qualitas Health’s intellectual property – including algae growth and extraction techniques and Almega PL’s composition – are patent-protected.
In August 2015, the area around the company’s production facility, normally an arid grassland environment, received more than its annual rainfall total in a couple of days. The company’s ponds were flooded out, interrupting production, and the infrastructure was damaged.
Turning point toward new strategy
The event proved to be a turning point for the company. Calatayud was brought on, and he hired a new roster of senior management and oversaw the rebuilding of the algae farm and the relocation of the company’s headquarters from Jerusalem to Houston.
Being now a fully Texas-based company is a boon in the latest product launch. Qualitas is participating in the GoTexan marketing campaign sponsored by the Texas Department of Agriculture to promote home grown products.
Global sales director Corinna Bellizzi is one of the experts brought on by Catalayud. The product launch fits into the company’s more recent two pronged strategy, to act as a raw material supplier while also marketing its own line of supplements, she said.
“The long term strategy is to be able to do both,”Bellizzi said.“AlGeepa is a proof of concept by showcasing Almega PL on the front of the label (the products say ‘powered by Almega PL’). So often a branded ingredient gets buried in the supplement facts panel or is just a tiny bug on the back of the label. For any partnerships that we would enter into on the supply end we would be looking for that (kind of label positioning),”Bellizzi said.
New products based on algae
Interestingly, the four finished products include blends with other ingredients, including an algal DHA oil. While the polar lipids/bioavailability and EPA-only stories are still the core messages of the company, Calatayud said other attributes are important, too.
“We are a 100% plant-based, sustainable source of omega-3s,”Calatayud said. “We have the highest bioavailabilty in the business, and we did our bioavailability study at the same lab in Germany where the krill producers did their studies to show their bioavailability in comparison to fish oil. I don’t want to say that we are better than anyone else, we just want to prove that we are the real deal.”
The rebuilt farm is now up and running and, according to Calatayud, has recently achieved full production capacity. Future plans include expanding the existing facility’s capacity threefold, as well as exploring options to locate new facilities elsewhere. And Catalayud said Qualitas is transitioning from having a goal of producing a single ingredient to become a platform for producing a number of high value products from algae. All of that will be made possible by many improvements made to the algae farm during the rebuilding phase, he said.
“We have brought in lean manufacturing experts to run the farm. We have changed the farm and have turned it into an elite manufacturing facility with real time information on the algae cultures,” he said.
“We are an algae-based platform that will include more products in the future. We are now laser focused on omega-3s, but 2018 will be the year of the protein,”Calatayud said.