Infusing Health Into Profits

A Paramus company is doing its best to make heart-healthy omega-3, which in capsule form can taste unpleasantly fishy, easier to swallow.

Mycell Technologies LLC and its subsidiary Oceans Omega LLC are launching a line of omega-3 infused water nationally in grocery stores, starting with Giant Food LLC, which has stores in New York City, this month.

In February, Stop & Shop and San Antonio-based H-E-B will also start stocking Omega Infusion Enhanced Water on their shelves, said Benjamin Mamola, co-founder and chief executive officer of Mycell and Oceans Omega. The Food Lion supermarket chain, as well as several other grocers, also will begin carrying it this year, while Kmart will start selling Omega Infusion’s 2-ounce shots.

Mamola and his two partners founded Mycell in 2010, and they have raised $17 million in three rounds of financing. The company had revenue of about $200,000 last year, but with several of its deals coming to fruition, it projects more than $20 million in revenue this year, said Mamola, who was raised in Paramus and now lives in Ramsey.

“We will be profitable this year,” he said. “We’re expected to have dramatic growth in 2014 and 2015.”

Products that contain the fatty acid omega-3 — which comes from fish and plants and is believed to have anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits — as an additive are a growing segment of the “functional” beverage and food category. It is the next generation of nutritional foodstuffs, going beyond drinks such as vitamin water and milk fortified with vitamin D.

Mycell, which has five patents pending, is one of several companies trying to capitalize on omega-3’s reputation. Mycell is creating ingredients, liquid formulations of omega-3, that can be incorporated in food and drinks without altering their taste or smell. SoluBlend Technologies LLC of Frankfort, Ill., and VIRUN in Walnut, Calif., are some of the other players in this segment.

“It’s a new market,” VIRUN CEO Philip Bromley said. “It’s emerging, and the functional water business is growing. … Omega-3 is a good way of getting attention.”

Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Chicago-based Technomic Inc., a food industry consulting and research firm, said omega-3 enriched products are a new trend that’s building momentum.

“What we have seen in both retail and food service is a trend in nutritionally enhanced food and beverages, and that’s what I think is guiding this,” Tristano said. “Consumers are looking for ways to add more nutrition to their lifestyle, without dramatically changing the way they eat. Beverages provide a great way to enhance what we’re consuming. Vitamin water has been incredibly popular.”

Infusing drinks and food with omega-3 is a more palatable way for people to get their daily intake of it, Mamola said. Omega-3 is typically sold as an oil in gel capsules in the vitamin aisle, but there are consumers who are turned off by its fishy taste. Other people are just tired of taking a pile of pills each day, and of shelling out money for each of them, Mamola said.

“Consumers need a way to consume omega-3s in a more traditional manner,” he said.

Through nanotechnology, companies such as Mycell can get omega-3 to emulsify and mix with fluids such as water and remain stable, said Mamola, who studied chemical engineering and business.

Mycell forged two important partnerships recently. In one, Cott Beverages Inc. of Tampa is making the Omega Infusion Enhanced Water and has agreed to use Mycell’s omega-3 emulsions to fortify the private-label beverages it makes. In the second, DSM Nutritional Products Inc. of Columbia, Md., will be manufacturing Mycell’s omega-3 emulsion.

VIRUN has been granted several patents, and are already out on the market, Bromley said. VIRUN also has a partnership with a unit of Hormel Foods Corp., he said.

Mycell has a strategic advantage over its rival VIRUN and SoluBlend, Mamola said, adding that his omega-3 emulsion was also less pricey.

Richard Staack, CEO of SoluBlend, said he was aware of Mycell, and that the two companies use different technologies.

“We’re friendly competitors,” Staack said. “We talk to the [Mycell] guys. We visit them. They visited us. We believe we have a better product, and I’m sure they’re going to say the same thing about theirs.”

In addition to its enhanced water, Mycell’s omega-3 ingredients are used in nutritional gels to malnourished children overseas.

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