LAVAL, Quebec—Following a long journey of rebuilding, omega-3 krill supplier Neptune Technologies & Bioressources has reopened its Sherbrooke plant after receiving final permits from the Quebec government. In addition to restarting these production operations, the company announced three new products to expand its omega-3 offerings.
“We are back," Michael Timperio, VP of global sales for Neptune, told INSIDER at the recent Ingredients Marketplace show in New York. “We are very happy, first of all, to have survived this; it was a long journey."
The krill oil production plant, damaged in a November 2012 explosion, was rebuilt with new technologies and safety features; it can produce 150 metric tons of krill oil annually and is expandable to double capacity in the future.
“We lost some people that worked with us; we had some injured people," Timperio somberly reminded. “The security of the plant was basically the focus." He said efforts to improve the plant safety took time, but the new plant will serve as an example of safety in solvent-based extraction.
In addition, Timperio said new equipment technologies and manufacturing practices will improve the company’s products. “Krill is known to be very viscous, and that creates, sometimes, some problems at the contract manufacturing level," he said, noting the phospholipid content of krill oil can adversely affect flowability and appearance. “With the new technology, our krill will be less viscous," he said. Further, Neptune has the ability to increase the concentration of some of its krill compositions, which Timperio said will help it cater to customers interested in pharmaceutical grade ingredients—in addition to its natural products focus, Neptune has a pharmaceutical division called Acasti Pharma.
The entire rebuilding process took 18 months, during which many actions were important to the company’s survival. “The management has been extremely focused," he said, adding that during the rebuilding each manager took on a specific task, including insurance, financing and customer relations. “The management stayed very strong."
During this period, Neptune went through various management changes. A few months after the explosion, saw the departure of its president and CEO Henri Harland took over the COO duties from Michel Chartrand, who retained his membership on the company's board. Neptune said it made the move due to lask of production operations during that timeduring the reorganization, directors, senior management and employees lso took a 20-percent salary cut. Then in April 2014, Harland resigned as president and CEO of Neptune and Acasti, but held onto his position as a director. Neither Harland nor Neptune provided a reason for his departure. Chief financial officer Andre Godin has taken on leadership of a management committee that will lead Neptune and Acasti until a new CEO/president is hired.
Timperio noted despite all the challenges Neptune management delivered on its rebuilding plan it outlined after the plant incident. “Our investors have been very supportive, so have our customers," he assured. “If not for these two factors and a strong management, I don’t think we would have made it."
Neptune experienced much uncertainty during the rebuilding process. “We didn’t know if we would keep our employees," Timperio said. However, most of its employees are back, even in the Sherbrooke plant. “Having gone through this tragedy and with most of the employees being back, this tells us how committed they are and how much faith they have in the future of Neptune."
Other boosts to Neptune’s recovery include the conclusion of its long battle with key competitors over Neptune’s composition of matter patents. “Our competitors have agreed to pay us royalties," Timperio reported, alluding to recent agreements with both Aker Biomarine (news link) and Enzymotec (news link). He said the victory is not just for Neptune but also for the entire industry. “We are venturing into something bigger, more structured, and I think more in terms of how we want to build it for the future as an industry."
Neptune also used its production downtime to work on new ingredient offerings. “What we discovered through our studies is that krill oil, especially Neptune Krill Oil (NKO®), has specific characteristics that are good for brain health, joint health and cardiovascular health," Timperio explained.
The company added coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to its NKO to make NKO Beat® after its research showed CoQ10 bioavailability increased by as much as 25 times in combination compared to CoQ10 alone. Similarly, combining NKO and high potency vitamin D increased the vitamin’s absorption by as much as two times, becoming the basis for the company’s new NKO Flex®. And, studies showed lutein absorption increased as much as eight times when combined with NKO, so the company developed it NKO Focus® product to include lutein as well as thiamine and other ingredients. Timperio said the clinical study data will be available to customers as early as this fall.
Throughout the entire rebuilding process, Neptune remained focused on the challenges presented by the explosion and its effect on personnel and operations, while keeping an eye on its future positioning. “We were focused on our strategy in terms of structure and reorganization," Timperio said. “This is behind us now, and we are in the proactive condition." He said in addition to being survivors, the company was and is an innovator, as demonstrated by the new technologies and products. “To be here today and tell you … we are back, that is big news for us and our partners.