Omega Alpha helped pave the way for the natural products industry
By Jessica Uniac
Not many businesses have a company name they can say sums up and represents the goals they achieved
in their industry in just two decades as a nutraceuticals manufacturing company. Toronto-based Omega Alpha Pharmaceuticals can make this claim.
“We thought, we’re just a small company starting up – one day we will be a much bigger company,” says founder and custom manufacturer Dr. Gordon Chang, on how they chose their name. Chang received his Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Toronto, Institute of Biomedical Engineering, more than 20 years ago.
Soon after, Chang chose a career in OTC pharmaceutical manufacturing for natural health products. After jumping through hoops for Health Canada to become GMP certified, and while making contacts in the industry and landing some small U.S.-based contracts, Chang knew that what he wanted to do was possible. “When we started, it was in 1992,” he recalls, “You have to remember back then there was just a sprinkling of interest in natural products. You didn’t have a lot of people beating down the door to buy the stuff we were producing.”
The companies that were making money back then were selling items such as multivitamins, sticking with what consumers knew. Natural products hadn’t hit the mainstream yet. “I think that is why we were able to get into the industry,” Chang says. “The competition wasn’t as stiff. If I wanted to get into the industry today, I would have to have a lot more money.”
There have always been skeptics when it comes to natural health, and back then the industry was lacking legitimacy; there were few people accepting natural products as beneficial to their health. “Yet, if everyone sat down to think about it, they would realize that most of the drugs that were available had their humble beginnings from an herb. I always use the classic example of Aspirin,” says Chang, citing the well-known substance that originated from willow bark.
Over the years, the industry has gained credibility, with the general public coming around to believe herbal products could be useful. It also helped to have Chang’s academic credentials to give the company legitimacy, in addition to a pharmaceutical license to manufacture, which encouraged people to believe in the products.
Regulations are good
With the new regulations set by Health Canada, it is a common complaint by many manufacturers that it is very hard to get new natural health products approved. Omega Alpha, however, ultimately sees this as being valuable. “There’s probably going to be products for which we will never be able to get an NPN. There are many reasons for that. One of the major ones is that Health Canada still hasn’t figured out how to handle some of these products. As a company, we’re at the stage where the regulations are a good thing just because the general buying public will have a lot more confidence and trust in the products we produce,” says Chang.
In terms of Omega Alpha’s top sellers, the products the public is comfortable with, such as vitamin D, are very popular. Chang says, “We have a calcium magnesium product in liquid form and also in a capsule. The difference with this cal-mag is that we have included the trace minerals you would normally need, which are not always found in cal-mag products. We have detox products – our Lung Flush, Liver Flush and Kidney Flush. We have an Active Living line, which includes bone and joint products, and we have probiotics and more.”
Products for pets
Always on the edge of innovation, Omega Alpha manufactures a product line for pets. “About 10 years ago we launched a line for the equine market,” Chang recalls. “We are actually the leaders in the equine market in Canada right now. What was happening was that all these people who ride horses had pets, and I kept getting phone calls from everybody asking me, ‘can we use this on our cats?’ or ‘can we use this on our dogs?’ because they were seeing these great results in their horses.”
So after getting repeatedly asked, about four years ago Omega Alpha decided to launch a pet line. North Americans treat their pets like family, and pairing the needs of these pet owners with a 20-year-old, highly trusted brand means it’s no surprise this is a growing product category. They started off with products such as detox for pets, as well as focusing on joint health and probiotics.
“We did not go off the deep end and say, ‘we will cure your dog of cancer’ or something like that,” Chang says. “To be fair, when we first came on the market with it, it was like pulling teeth, like anything else. Yet we sank money into the advertising; we did a lot of trade shows, and so on.”
Chang adds that Omega Alpha is not at the point where the pet product line can be a stand-alone, yet they are planning to go into the U.S. with some of their equine and pet products soon. “And the reason we’re going in with those two is because we’re so very unique in that area.”
When asked what he predicts in terms of product development in the next 10 or 20 years, Chang says, “There’s going to be a lot of opportunity out there for different and new products to come down the pipe. Yet again, with the new regulations in place, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to introduce some of the new ingredients. What I see happening will probably be a lot of different combinations of known ingredients that are already out there.”
A great resource Omega Alpha offers consumers is the opportunity to learn – from Chang and his education team – about the products, including what’s in them, how they work and what health issues the products are serving. “We have set up teleseminars that you can call in to, or join us on the Internet for education on our products and on different themes, such as boosting the immune system, what exactly that means and the science behind it,” says Chang.
The Rwanda vitamin
Another way Omega Alpha reaches out is to make many charitable donations. The one that seems to be the most noteworthy comes in the form of a vitamin supplement. Chang created a multivitamin specifically for a Rwandan orphanage and the people there who were malnourished. For a manufacturer of supplements, this makes perfect sense. Chang calls it “the Rwanda vitamin.” He understands that one vitamin isn’t going to change a life, yet what he is trying to do is “contribute to the health and well-being of these severely disadvantaged kids.”
Omega Alpha has also donated to an order of nuns working in Guatemala where many of the orphans are very malnourished. They have used the parasite cleanse and nutritional products to help nourish the kids back to good health.
In addition, they also donate human, pet and equine products (or money) to organizations such as the Thunderbird Adoption Society, Out in the Cold and numerous local and national animal shelters. Chang’s generosity far exceeds his memory and even he was surprised to learn (when we checked with his staff) that Omega Alpha donates annually to about 100 charitable, business, spiritual and athletic organizations.