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2010 Manufacturer of the Year


During each of the past four years, the VR staff has weighed which manufacturer would deserve the magazine’s highest honor—Manufacturer of the Year. We seek out the companies that stand apart in several key areas (including quality, leadership in science and innovation, respect for the environment and dedication to retailers and the industry as a whole). Several names come up and the staff hashes out that tough decision. This year, we picked a company that got its start from a competitive gymnast career. Nordic Naturals has truly set the standard for purity, freshness and innovation for fish oils, while keeping sustainability, environmentalism, education and charity all top priorities—on land and at sea.

Keeping Things Small 

Joar Opheim, Nordic Natural’s CEO and founder, was working in Silicon Valley as a manager with an IT company when he started a fish oil business as a side job. He had been a competitive gymnast on the rings in Norway for 10 years. “I had a lot of falls and hits and I relied on fish oils to take care of my inflammation. I constantly had to bring fish oils back with me from Norway because I couldn’t find the quality I was looking for. That’s why my personal mission became to increase the quality of fish oils, whatever it would take,” he said, adding that he is dependent on fish oils every day. That should come as no surprise considering that in his hometown of Bodo, Norway, fish oil is a “huge part” of commercial industry, he said. Opheim started Nordic Naturals 14 years ago, and today, “we have built a company dedicated to correcting the omega-3 deficiency— a company that will be here for 150 years.” 

In the years since, Nordic Naturals has become the leading fish oil manufacturer worldwide. Though the company is still based in California, Opheim is often back home. Much of his family is in Norway and so is the company’s European headquarters. His sister, Astrid Opheim, manages manufacturing and sales there, and is the main connection to distributors throughout Europe.

The success of Nordic Naturals, simply put, is attributed to vertical integration and quality, Opheim said. “Vertical integration from catch to finished product is the reason we can confidently deliver pure, fresh and sustainably sourced products. Being able to manage every step of the process ensures continued quality. Every batch is third-party tested and our purity and freshness levels far surpass strict international standards, which is very difficult to achieve.” 

Opheim noted that Nordic Naturals’ patented processing and dedication to research contributes greatly to product quality. The company performs numerous studies on their products, many of which have been published in scientific journals. “People who are obsessed with quality appreciate Nordic Naturals’ commitment,” said Opheim. “Our label is true, we don’t tell stories and we are low key. You can trust what we are doing.” 

Though committed to product excellence, the company’s workaday life is very casual, free of big titles and has a low turnover, Opheim added. “We don’t have high titles because we think it creates a distance among employees. We want employees who can talk to each other. It is our intimate organizational structure that protects our authenticity, purity of product, our service to the industry and commitment to well being.” 

Though Opheim said he still sees Nordic Naturals as a “small company” it has been recognized for its growth. This year, ThinkGlobal Inc., publisher of Commercial News USA, the official export promotion magazine of the US Commerce Department, named Nordic Naturals an Exporter of the Year. In 2003, Nordic began exporting to Canada and the UK. Now it exports to more than 25 countries on six continents.


Nordic Naturals’ commitment to innovation is grounded in scientific research with active participation in peerreviewed clinical studies, noted National Sales Manager Corinna Bellizzi.

“With a reputation for purity, efficacy and potency, our fish oils are regularly chosen, by independent research institutions and universities without solicitation. This includes research partners at Harvard, Columbia, National Institutes of Health, Stanford and Duke, to name a few. Thirteen studies have been published to date and 30 more are underway,” she said.

“Through the development and maintenance of omega-research.com, an objective online essential fatty acid resource library, Nordic Naturals continues to provide easy access to current research,” Bellizzi added. “Our commitment to stay abreast of the latest research and technology remains absolute.” 

Leading the way in the manufacturing of fish oils, Opheim is responsible for several innovative patented manufacturing technologies for flavoring and delivery that have helped shape the standards for a country and industry that had few guidelines in place.

“Nordic Naturals’ multi-patented manufacturing processes enable us to deliver fish oil with industry-leading freshness and purity,” Bellizzi said. “We use several steps in processing our oils, from water and clay filters to an enzymatic molecular distillation process, with no chemicals or excessive heat, and all while preserving the natural constituents of the oil to the highest degree possible.” Nordic Naturals’ patented enzymatic process removes heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs, saturated fats and other undesirable organic compounds, leaving only the beneficial components of the fish oil. Industrial solvents, like hexane, are never used.

“We also utilize a proprietary oxygenfree and nitrogen flushed environment to achieve our industry-leading freshness levels. All our products are manufactured in natural triglyceride form in order to best preserve the oil and enhance absorption,” Bellizzi added. 

“The impact from extracting oil from Arctic cod (Skrei) liver has to be very gentle,” Opheim said. “I think the system we have in place where we are able to get the fish in by using smaller boats, have our extraction facility right on the harbor, extract quickly and efficiently, and then gently purify is very important. That has brought cod liver oil back. Some people won’t take anything else. That’s the only thing I take. It’s extremely pure and very effective.” 

Third party laboratories test every batch of Nordic’s oils for purity and freshness. “We test competing products on an ongoing basis to monitor the quality of fish oil products available, and we have never found a competing product to match our freshness and purity,” Bellizzi said.

A priority for the company now, according to Opheim, is innovative delivery systems. “Many people don’t want to take capsules and others don’t like the texture of fish oil even if it’s not fishy. Our new omega-3 effervescent product is for people who really need fish oil but have a problem taking it.” The company is also focusing on fish oils and absorption rates and healthy triglyceride and cholesterol levels, he added.

Fish Sensitivity 
Along with using Arctic cod, the company also fishes in waters off Peru. “Peru is a country with stringent regulations and fishing guidelines. We adhere to strict quotas that are identical to our practices in Norway. Fishing boats have GPS systems and are tracked, and there is a minimum size restriction for fish,” Opheim said. “If you ask people in the industry who has the most responsible fishing practices in the world, they would say Norway. Norway has to really care about their fishing resources—otherwise they will lose them. Their system is over 40 years old. Now Peru is copying them. We are very concerned about sustainability and we are working with an organization in Peru that we hope is instrumental in monitoring people who are not following the guidelines.”

“Nordic Naturals has always been deeply committed to the health of the oceans,” Bellizzi added. “Our firm policy has always been to harvest our fish only from abundant waters and to utilize fish species that are flourishing. One hundred percent of our fish—both the Arctic cod harvested from the Norwegian Sea, as well as the sardines and anchovies harvested from the South Pacific Ocean—is sourced in compliance with a formal system of regulations. Our Norwegian fishing company operating in Peru has received numerous certifications for sustainable and environmentally conscious practices. The fleet operates with full traceability from catch to finished product. Authorities monitor every catch and we receive spec sheets prior to processing to verify our quality needs are met. All fish oil manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure their source is in full compliance with government regulations. Nordic Naturals will continue to lead by example to protect the health of our oceans.” 

Green on Land 

Nordic Naturals’ most recent effort to carry forward its commitment to environmental leadership is a new US headquarters now under construction. The building is designed for a GOLD rating in accordance with the LEED Green Building Rating System. The rating system promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

“It’s been a personal and a company passion,” Opheim said. “Our building is the first LEED GOLD Standard building in our county. It’s designed like a Norwegian fishing village and it’s as green as it gets—the lights, carpeting, packaging material and glass bottles for all our liquids. You have to walk your talk; as an ethical company that’s what we do.” 

Charitable Giving 
Although Nordic Naturals’ philanthropic efforts have been ongoing, it is not until recently that it has been talking about them in an open forum. Opheim said, “I realized you have to talk about your efforts so that others will follow your lead.

“We have a comprehensive outreach program and we recently partnered with Vitamin Angels on a large project in the Dominican Republic supplying fish oil to nearly 3,000 children for one year. We are honored to work with them and we intend to continue this program.” The partnership is with Vitamin Angels’ Thrive to Five program through which Nordic donates its Children’s DHA™ fish oil supplement.

Further, in response to the devastation in Haiti, Nordic Naturals launched its “Open Your Heart to Haiti” campaign, and contributed one percent of sales during heart health month (February 1–28) to Architecture for Humanity from its best-selling product, Ultimate Omega™ (all sizes of liquid and soft gels). The efforts helped deliver funds for the community-focused, long-term sustainable reconstruction initiative of the capital city, Port-Au-Prince.

More information about Nordic Naturals’ philanthropic partnerships can be found at www.planetnordic.com. 

Room for Improvement 
“Education—both within the company and in our outreach—is another key aspect of Joar’s founding mission and vision,” noted Bellizzi. “As such, we have always placed comprehensive education for in-house employees, outside team members, distributor partners and consumers at the forefront of our daily operations. Nordic Naturals has fulltime educators and research advisors on staff as well as a multidisciplinary board of advisors that support our dedication to education and outreach. Within our company, we place an emphasis on selfempowerment and positive development and offer employees regular paid educational opportunities.” 

To Come 
Opheim said the vision of Nordic Naturals is to “increase the intake of omega-3s in the world. Our mission as a company is to innovate and deliver leading products that will support our vision and correct the omega-3 deficiency. That means we have to have clean sustainable products for everyone.

“What we see in the future is a greater understanding of omega-3s. We will continue to bring forward innovative products to increase omega-3 consumption worldwide.

“Education is getting people to take omega-3s,” Opheim added. “I believe Nordic Naturals has played a large part in increasing consumer knowledge. When we started Nordic Naturals, no one knew about fish oils and look at where we are now.” VR

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