SeaDragon seeking to take fully NZ fish oil to market

HAMISH MCNICOL
Last updated 05:00 23/08/2014

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Fish oil company SeaDragon wants to be able take a "100 per cent New Zealand" product to the market because consumers do not know what they are buying.

But the company has had to make a plea to the domestic seafood industry for help, as it looks to import close to $10 million in raw materials this year.

The listed Nelson-based company said in June that it had secured a second major sales contract that would boost annual revenue to at least US$6 million (NZ$7.08m).

SeaDragon, Australasia's largest refiner and blender of fish oils, said the new deal would underpin its financial performance into 2016.

But while research firm Edison dubbed the contracts a "positive game changer", chief executive Ross Keeley told the seafood industry's conference SeaDragon wanted to leverage off what it called the "New Zealand cachet".

This year's industry conference, called Growing the Blue Economy, was held in Wellington this week.

It was built around a strategy of enhancing the value of local products on global markets by developing a reputation for seafood as healthy, safe and sustainably sourced.

In doing so, the industry hopes to increase annual export revenues, currently about $1.54 billion, without ramping up volumes.

"We're not looking to be unique, we're not looking to be different, what we want is to leverage off what we have in this wonderful country," Keeley said.

"One of the things that we're truly blessed with is a very pure environment in which to get our resources."

SeaDragon raised $6.1m this year, of which $4m will be used to fund a new Nelson plant able to produce more than 5000 tonnes of refined fish oil and generate annual sales up to $50m.

Shark-liver oils are said to strengthen the immune system, ease joint pain from arthritis, and maintain healthy skin.

Keeley said most of the world's omega-3 was sourced from anchovies off the coast of Peru and Chile.

"Very few people know that there's a 95 per cent chance the oil in those capsules will be from anchovies.

"Hence the opportunity that this sector has to get a New Zealand fish oil out there. There's basically no New Zealand fish oil in this sector."

But he said most product-labelling did not tell customers what species of fish was used to make the fish oil, which is what SeaDragon wanted to do.

The company imports shark and cod livers and extracts the oil before refining it.

The type of oil used came from certain species of deep-water sharks, whose oxygen-rich livers were sought for their omega-3 properties.

"You would be amazed at what there is in some of the fish oils around the world," Keeley said. "We have a very good story to tell, in terms of purity."

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He said fatty acids were essential because a quarter of human brains were omega-3 fatty acids, and people were very poor at producing them.

SeaDragon's biggest issue was supply, which was why it wanted to progress with domestic fish oils.

The company accepted there were cost and certification barriers for local seafood companies.

"We want to leverage off what we call the New Zealand cachet. Those are the things we've got to work through to enable us to take that 100 per cent New Zealand message to the market."

- The Dominion Post

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