Feature

Big Plans for Small Things in Sackville

SACKVILLE– Normally, eating two hundred billion of something in one sitting would be a cause for concern — but don’t tell that to David Hunter.

Hunter, the founder and CEO of Blugenics Innovations, is in the phytoplankton business and is setting his sights on changing the relationship that people have with their food.

Phytoplankton, also known as microalgae, are minuscule marine plants found in the world’s oceans. They boast an impressive array of nutritional benefits and are full of healthy omega fatty acids, beta carotene, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, D and K.

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It’s estimated that every 500 milligram serving of Hunter’s product contains up to 200 billion phytoplankton plants.

The concept for the company, Hunter explains, came after he was contracted by a phytoplankton business to help expand product distribution throughout North America. “I ate the phytoplankton on a recommendation from the owner of the company, and it completely changed my life,” he says.

After the business owner that he was advising was bought out, Hunter shifted his attention to “making the business happen on [my] own. I was just so inspired by how it changed my life. And not only just with me, but the other people around me that had eaten it as well. It was just about how do I go from this discovery to trying to get everybody to take it. That was kind of my journey.”

Hunter realized that phytoplankton products were capable of improving people’s lives in a way that traditional medical treatments often could not.

“I had this really bad chronic fatigue and I struggled with it and you go to the doctor and they sent me for blood tests and took me to the sleep clinic and tried all these different things and couldn’t figure out why I had this fatigue, but nobody ever asked me what I ate,” he says.

“I was in this environment and it was like, if you had a problem, here’s a prescription, go get it. Then all of a sudden when I ate the phytoplankton, it was like that void got taken away… it was this profound simplicity.”

Hunter was also inspired by the experience of his mother, Karen, a former head nurse who was diagnosed with and died from cancer when he was only 20. Her name now graces Blugenics’ lead product, a powdered superfood sold nationally at pharmacies, drug stores, and health food businesses.

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Even after his epiphany, Hunter had a lot of work to do to make his dream a reality. “When Health Canada brought in this thing just after phytoplankton was discovered called the natural health products directorate, they decided they were going to highly regulate natural products. When we discovered it, it wasn’t really highly regulated but it became highly regulated. This was the worst blow in the world I could have gotten.”

He spent over five years fighting for regulatory approval from Health Canada before finally being able to found Blugenics Innovations in late 2015. The expenses nearly drove him into financial ruin, and business costs were a major factor behind the BC native’s decision to relocate to New Brunswick.

“I used to live in Vancouver and it’s just super expensive to live in Vancouver,” he explains. “I had worked in New Brunswick briefly in my 20’s when I was in forestry and I fell in love with the province. I liked the architecture, the people, the culture, the community… but also what attracted me was the cost of living… my cost of living went down 60 per cent moving here.”

After moving his family to Sackville, Hunter’s company began to take off. “I ended up in Sackville kind of strategically because of [its proximity to] Mount Allison and Moncton. It’s a bit more of a hub than Woodstock, where I worked when I was in forestry,” he says. “I moved here strategically because it’s kind of in the middle of the East Coast.”

Although Hunter was able to get his Karen product into a few local health stores, Blugenics’ big break came in the form of a partnership with Charles Beaver, a Sackville businessman who owns  seven Guardian pharmacies in the region.

“A lot of the growth in the pharmacy world was getting the pharmacists to try it first. It was just getting a bunch of well-known pharmacists and since we’re in the Maritimes … I think in Atlantic Canada a lot of people talk to each other a little bit more. It’s a bit more of a network. Everybody knows everybody because it’s a little bit smaller.”

Hunter is effusive in his praise of phytoplankton’s effect on the body, but even he admits that he has a hard time describing the exact feeling.

“People try to describe the feeling they get from it but it’s hard to describe in words because everybody has a slightly different story…  I just felt like my digestive got better and it was like this brain fog thing you get in the afternoon completely disappeared. I had all this energy and my allergies went away,” he muses.

“It’s very gentle. It’s not like you want to go paint the ceilings in your office. It’s just there.”

Researchers at Mount Allison are currently performing clinical trials that examine phytoplankton’s effects on everything from irritable bowel syndrome to acid reflux disease, and Hunter has high hopes for Karen’s future in the fields of health and nutrition.

“The idea is that we feel in the future that if you have food products, really high quality food products with a little bit of phytoplankton in them and you’re eating a little bit of phytoplankton throughout the day, you’re getting more of your nutritional quota. That’s the next generation,” he says.

“We’re also talking with bigger companies that have mainstream food products that want to add phytoplankton because they see that phytoplankton is going to be the future of value-added food products.”

Clearly David Hunter, purveyor of miracle-working microalgae, is no longer operating in micro terms — he’s thinking macro, and the health food industry may never be the same.