New Brunswick Company Makes a Splash With Ocean-Picked Superfood

Its product is microscopic, but the success of rising Canadian business Blugenics Innovations is huge.

In the first 14 months of operation, the Sackville, NB-based company is on target to reach $1.8 million in annual sales of its unique superfood – a first-of-its-kind natural phytoplankton product called Karen that has users wowed by its health benefits.

Found in the ocean and considered the world’s original vegetable, phytoplankton – also known as microalgae – are microscopic marine plants with a complete nutritional profile that supports all ocean life.

The man behind Blugenics Innovations, entrepreneur and B.C. native David Hunter, credits the company’s rapid growth to a remarkable discovery he made more than a decade ago when he decided to eat this “fish food.”

“At first I thought it was a joke, but when I agreed to try phytoplankton, it completely changed my life,” says Hunter, who first got introduced to the idea of eating phytoplankton while working at a B.C.-based fish farm, where phytoplankton was typically fed to shellfish.

For years, Hunter suffered from “barn-burning” migraines, chronic fatigue and severe allergies. Within days after taking phytoplankton, his health improved. “It affected me in such a profound way – I remember feeling as though I had my life back,” he says, adding that his headaches and allergies are gone, his immune system is stronger and he sleeps better at night. “I haven’t had a cold in years.”

Now, Hunter is on a mission to bring the health benefits of phytoplankton to all Canadians through his company’s Karen product. After spending more than five years to obtain regulatory approval from Health Canada – and dabbling in selling the product since May 2014 – he launched Blugenics Innovations in November 2015 in partnership with Fitoplancton Marino of Cadiz, Spain, a world leader in marine microalgae production that is backed by multinational food group Ebro Foods.

Today, the company’s phytoplankton is cultivated in a state-of-the-art facility in Cadiz that is certified according to strict global food safety protocols HACCP and ISO 22,000, meaning the product is non-toxic and entirely safe for consumption. With a distribution network of more than 1,000 retailers across Canada, Karen can be purchased nationally over-the-counter at pharmacies, health food stores, and health and wellness centres.

A unicellular seed that grows by multiplying itself, phytoplankton is so tiny that a 500 milligram serving of Karen contains about 200 billion phytoplankton plants. As Hunter explained, each serving of Karen is packed with omega fatty acids, vitamins A, C, D and K, beta carotene, dietary fibre, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron and protein.

According to company-led studies and anecdotal reports from those who consume it, Hunter says Karen – which is allergen-free – is effective in treating everything from digestive issues, inflammation, fibromyalgia and migraines to chronic pain, low energy and skin issues such as psoriasis and eczema.

“The biggest thing that tells me a product is effective is when people come back for more,” says pharmacist Jack Davies. “We’re seeing two types of repeat customers: those with multiple health issues who find immediate relief and are able to go off other medications, and those who simply believe it’s a fantastic health food that gives them more energy and makes them feel better all around.”

For Sackville resident Reg Beal, Karen consistently works to prevent acid reflux, meaning he no longer has to take prescription medications. “It’s unbelievable to me,” he says.

With a dedicated network of consumers who share their product experiences on the company’s website and social media channels, Blugenics Innovations has an aggressive plan for continued growth. Recognizing that Karen is a “word-of-mouth champion” and that the majority of Karen users see the benefits within a couple of weeks, Hunter says the company’s focus is to get people to try the health food, offering Canadians from coast to coast a 30-day trial challenge with a full money back guarantee. The company also encourages trial through special promotions, giveaways and draws for prizes such as trips. A Karen VIP Club provides special pricing and discounts for family members, and a Karen Care Support Line is available to answer consumers’ questions.

Key to Blugenics Innovations’ growth plan is ongoing research and development of new product offerings. First introduced as a powder which consumers mix with liquid to drink, the company last month launched both a tablet and skin cream form of Karen. Now, it is developing Karen as a spray that several food manufacturers are looking to incorporate into their food products, including cereal, pasta and nutrition bars, with the goal of enhancing the products’ nutritional benefits.

Blugenics Innovations is also partnering with researchers to further explore Karen’s unique health benefits. One trial, funded by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, has Mount Allison University researchers investigating the product’s effectiveness in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive problems.

“Karen is a single ingredient superfood phenomenon similar to Quinoa, where you have this ancient product that is suddenly seeing a surge in Western society,” says Dr. Melanie Wills, a University of Guelph PhD student in molecular and cellular biology who is helping to run the trial as a post-doctoral fellow at Mount Allison. “I’m thrilled to be part of the Canadian team that is working to put scientific evidence behind the amazing health benefits we’ve been hearing about.”

With a staff of 16 employees – including Hunter’s wife, Gabi, son Zack and sister Kelly – Blugenics Innovations operates out of 6,000 square feet of commercial space in Sackville.

Looking ahead, Hunter is confident the best is yet to come. “I truly believe we’re going to rewrite how people think about nutrition,” he says, noting that the product’s ongoing success is a fitting tribute to his mom, Karen, the product’s namesake, who passed away from cancer in 1993. “We literally went to great depths to bring this product to market,” he says. “It’s an amazing feeling to sit back and watch it soar.”