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Industry Profile: eSHa
18th November 2013

By Sandra Pearce


Dr Theo Fabius: “Our strength is developing and manufacturing pharmaceutical and analytical products.”

Dutch manufacturer eSHa celebrates its 45th anniversary this year and reveals how, apart from a short digression into larger territory, it has remained true to its core aim of making health care products and supplements for the aquatics industry.

It is a familiar story – a pet or fish owner sees an untapped potential, seizes the opportunity and develops a new product that goes on to achieve national or even international acclaim. eSHa’s story is much like this, and it all begins with its founder, Dutch man John de Cocq.

A keen tropical fishkeeper, John took his interest further and studied ichthyology before setting up his own aquatics shop, Sea Horse, sometime in the late Fifties/early Sixties. However, he was not impressed with the efficacy of the various aquatic remedies then on the market, and so started doing his own research. With a friendly pharmacist across the street, it was easy to get his hands on the various ingredients he needed for research.

This was the starting block for eSHa (the ‘SH’ marking the initials of his aquatics shop), which he set up in Maastricht, the capital city of the Dutch province of Limburg, in 1964. eSHa was officially registered in the Chamber of Commerce in 1968, making the company 45 years old this year. Today, eSHa is still family owned, though John sadly died in 2009.  

One of the first products the company made, and still going strong today, is eSHa 2000, a wide-ranging treatment for fungal, bacterial and parasitic infections, including dropsy, fin rot, tail rot, Neon Tetra disease and gill problems. It can also help heal wounds and is therefore used for skin conditions and ulcers.

Company researcher Dr Theo Fabius said: “This is an easy product to use – everyone can use this. It was developed for hobbyists, and makes diagnosis easy.”

As word spread among the aquatics industry of this flagship product, demand grew and eSHa evolved into a wholesaler and production company, especially as other products had followed in its footsteps. eSHa then found itself branching out and making glass aquariums and importing accessories from the Far East; it even had a plastic blow-mold facility for aquarium filters and other products in Maastricht.

Theo adds: “There was a large staff and sales force, and products were exported to more and more countries, though in those days, customs and import/export regulations presented hurdles to export in Europe.”
However, such a large product range brought with it its own challenges, and by the end of the Seventies and the early Eighties, a decision was made to rationalise its product portfolio and to focus on what eSHa did best, in other words, to go back to its roots. As a result, the company sold its wholesale operations, plastic accessory and glass tank manufacturing facilities, and even its print shop.


On the production line

All attention turned to research, consultancy, medicines production, algae treatment, water testing and plant food production. Theo remarks: “Our strength is developing and manufacturing pharmaceutical and analytical products. There were enough other companies who did a better job in distribution or producing cheap plastic parts.”

Raising standards
By the end of the Eighties, regulations over medicines were tightened up across Europe, which saw a major shake-up in the industry. In short, the Dutch government was one of the first in Europe to implement these new EU laws, using the big pharmaceutical companies as a template. As a result, more than three-quarters of all Dutch veterinary medicine producers and manufacturers ceased production.

Theo says: “We were lucky to stay in business, but we had to build a new manufacturing site and install new quality control labs. But this meant we were able to improve the quality of our products and ensure quality research laboratories.”

By 1998, the Dutch Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture made it mandatory for manufacturers to hold manufacturing licences for the production of medicines for fish.

During the Nineties, the aquarium and pond markets experienced strong growth in countries like the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France and Spain, and eSHa responded accordingly, investing in further manufacturing facilities and increased mechanisation.

Today, it will not venture into other fields, ‘simply because we believe in specialising in what we do best’, said eSHa’s Nikki Boumans, who has been appointed to handle sales and marketing for the UK, Italy and other new clients.

In 1997, for instance, eSHa introduced a world-first: the five-in-one eSHa Aqua Quick Test, an easy-to-use dip test measuring nitrate, nitrite, GH, KH and pH. The latest version is a six-in-one test, which adds chlorine to the list.


Specialist food range from eSHa

eSHa stresses the importance of on-going innovation and investment, such that in 2008, it refurbished its main building making it completely up-to-date with clean-room facilities, as well as state-of-the-art analysis and research facilities. Using the latest manufacturing techniques and rigorous testing guarantees a consistent high quality, while pharmaceutical-grade ingredients ensure superior performance. Inert packaging materials are used to ensure extended shelf-life and product stability.

eSHa today employs 18 staff members across its 1,800sq m production facility and two additional warehouses, one of which is owned by the company.

Sticking firmly to its commitment to ‘doing what it does best’, the company is solely concerned with health care products and supplements for ornamental fish, products to combat aquatic snails and algae, aquatic plants supplements, and water test strips.

Research and new product development is on-going, and the UK, for instance, will soon have access to 14 products – the latest, eSHa gdex, will soon be launched and has been specially formulated to combat skin and gill flukes (Gyrodactylus sp. and Dactylogyrus sp.) and tapeworms (Cestoda).

“One of the many advantages is that the product can be used in combination with all our other freshwater medicines. The combination of eSHa 2000, eSHa EXIT (a parasiticide and Whitespot treatment) and eSHa gdex gives the aquarium keeper an extremely broad range of action,” noted Nikki.


Nikki Boumans handles sales and marketing for the UK

Indeed, many of eSHa’s products are designed to complement each other, such that with eSHa gdex and eSHa Hexamita (a treatment for bacterial and fungal infections in Discus and Cichlids), the Discus and Cichlid keeper has an effective armoury against disease.

Nikki said: “We do a lot of research and consultancy from fish healthcare to plant food and water quality. We are also involved in national and international co-operation projects with other companies as well as some government institutions.” For example, it has developed a new anthelmintic product for a German company, for which a patent is pending. It has also investigated the biological decomposition of pharmaceutical components for a southern European government.

eSHa exports mostly to Western Europe, of which the UK, Germany, France and Italy are the largest markets. Eastern European markets include Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic, but these are still in early stages. The company would like to increase its exposure to these countries, as well as emerging economies including Brazil and China. “Because we already sell to most European countries, the big opportunities lie outside of Europe,” said Nikki.

Its exports paint interesting pictures of the individual countries. For example, it believes there are more marine hobbyists in the UK than in any other European country, and so its marine products (eSHa Oodinex, eSHa Trimarin and eSHa Minaroll) do well here. There are more Discus in Germany, and so sales of eSHa Hexamita are highest there. “In Greece and Italy, there are apparently more goldfish because we sell a lot of eSHa Goldy over there,” she added.

Although eSHa distributes only via wholesalers, it has strong support for retailers, which includes supplying promotional materials such as posters and flyers.

Nikki said: “There are still many young people who like fishkeeping, in addition to all the electronic gadgets and social media that take up their time! It is our job as an industry to keep the aquarium hobby fun, interesting and up to date.”