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Skin-care company finds Canada is just the tip of the iceberg

Seaweed, caviar, berry extracts and iceberg water are key ingredients in Ossetra's skin-care products, capitalizing on Newfoundland's local bounty.

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Seaweed, caviar, berry extracts and iceberg water: That is the recipe for success for a spa company that has moved from local to international markets with their locally-produced, environmentally-friendly skin-care line.

Ossetra Wondrous Earth, a division of I.C. Spa Products Inc., uses ingredients harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador for its skin-care line, including water from local icebergs. After its seaweed serum won a Best in Spa award from Les Nouvelles Esthétiques & Spa Magazine, the company's sales and distribution has grown and the company has attracted attention from the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia.

The founders already had experience in hairstyling and esthetics before launching the firm, as instructors at a local community college and as spa owners. Childhood friends Lee-Ann Fleming and Darlene McCarthy decided to combine their two greatest loves: the spa industry and their home province of Newfoundland. "We love our province a whole lot and we try to give back and help [local] companies," Ms. Fleming says.

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Using iceberg water harvested off the coast of Newfoundland as the base of their products, Ms. Fleming and Ms. McCarthy created an organic skin-care line with that as a unique selling point. After testing revealed the pH, or acidity, level of the iceberg water was 5.0, the two knew they had found their market niche, as the pH of skin averages around the same. This, they say, gives iceberg water benefits in skin care.

To capitalize on their unique ingredient, Ms. Fleming and Ms. McCarthy even transported a piece of an iceberg to a trade show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "We had a man ask us if this was the iceberg that sunk the Titanic," laughs Ms. McCarthy. The iceberg became a popular tourist attraction at the show, with visitors asking to take a picture next to it and touch it. "I can tell you, that's the first iceberg that was ever in Florida," she says.

The vast resources of Newfoundland and Labrador gave the two all they needed to create the line, and with a growing demand for natural products, the pristine province is seen as exotic in the international market.

"We're proud Newfoundlanders," says Ms. Fleming, whose company uses only local sources. Ossetra purchases berries from local growers, obtains glacial mud from the province's west coast and collects its own caviar off the shores of the Avalon Peninsula. Seaweed is a main ingredient in Ossetra's product line, and with more than 200 species available off the Newfoundland coast, Ms. Fleming and Ms. McCarthy received a seaweed licence to pick their own.

In 2009, the two began showcasing the products at international spa shows and sourcing distributors in the United States, Britain and Hong Kong. "We have three distributors in the United States – in California, New Jersey and Atlanta – and a distributor in Greece, Hong Kong and [South] Korea," Ms. McCarthy says. They're in negotiations with an Australian distributor.

Instead of targeting major retailers, the company follows a business-to-business model to provide greater strategic control over its operations and to add that personal touch that friendly Newfoundlanders are known for. Their distributors then sell directly to local spas.

Complying with international regulations has been a challenge for the young company. "It takes time," Ms. McCarthy says. "When exporting to other countries, especially European companies, there's an awful lot of red tape and sometimes it takes up to a year or two years to iron it out."

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They're working on getting approval for their iceberg mist through the Natural Health Product Directorate (NHPD), the regulating authority for natural health products in Canada. "When you get more products [on the] NHPD, that allows for entry into other countries, like China and Australia," Ms. Fleming says.

The two have plans to build Ossetra's product line and expand their international distribution in hopes of propelling their skin-care line to be one of the best in the world. "Osetra is the most sought-after caviar globally and we felt that Ossetra Wondrous Earth has that same potential," Ms. Fleming says.

Join the conversation on Canada's competitiveness by following Canada Competes on Twitter:@CanadaCompetes

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