Aker was recently recognized as Europe’s most innovative company at the annual European Business Awards. The award was among 13 given out, recognizing a variety of categories including startups, growth strategies, entrepreneur of the year and so forth.
“Innovation is part of our DNA. It’s one of the core pillars of our strategy,” Aker CEO Matts Johansen told NutraIngredients-USA.
Innovation as a process
Johansen said the judges for the competition looked at all aspects of the company’s business operation. It’s not just about who has the coolest gizmo.
“They looked at the whole value chain. Only about 20% of innovation that happens today actually has to do directly with technology. It’s about how you do your business,” he said.
Johansen said the recent award is a further validation of the company’s choice to go big in the krill business. Aker BioMarine is a division of a large, highly diversified corporation with interests in oilfield services, transportation and other sectors. At its core, though, it started as a fishing company.
Aker first started looking into the krill business in 2006, with exploratory voyages to the far South Atlantic Ocean. Its first proper harvesting season came only in 2008.
The krill are harvested in a fairly restricted area near the Antarctic Peninsula. The distances involved and the harsh nature of the area itself means you can’t start small in the krill business and work your way up. The industry requires capital, and lots of it. And with the commitment of that capital comes commitment to an idea of how to build a market for the products.
The drive to achieve scale finally yielding results
With more than 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars invested, Johansen said Aker and the krill oil category as a whole can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We have now 10 years experience in the filed. We like to look at the whole omega-3s market as our field. We have more than 20% of omega-3 market in the mass market channel,” Johansen said.
Aker continues to grow, with a fourth harvesting vessel nearing completion. It also recently bought out the krill oil portions of formulation competitors Neptune Wellness Solutions of Canada and Enzymotec of Israel. And it invested in its own retrofitted processing facility in Houston, TX. Aker already brings in more than 60% of the world’s harvest of krill and dominates the ingredient supply end of the market.
“That scale allows us to invest in product development, in science and in marketing,” Johansen said.
New components, combinations
Among the new innovations is highlighting the other components of krill oil beyond the long chain fatty acids housed on a phospholipid backbone. Aker has recently debuted higher concentrations of krill oil that do away with most of the bad smelling fractions. And the company is developing the oil’s facility as a carrier of other ingredients, Johansen said.
“In the past there has been a lot of focus on EPA and DHA in krill oil. But it is also a very important source of choline and a very bioavailable source of choline,” he said.
“We are now working on trying to develop a choline index, how to measure that effectively in the body. We do have a product in the pet space, and we tested that with the winning dog team in the Iditarod (the world’s premier sled dog race in Alaska). The choline level in those dogs was higher,” he said.
“We are also focusing on krill oil as a self emulsifying system. We are looking at synergistic combos. If you combine krill with CoQ10 you have a significantly better uptake of the CoQ10, for example,” he said.