Nordic Naturals

Joar Opheim grew his Norwegian longing into a healthy American business

Photo: Joar Opheim
One aspect of Lofoten was missing from California, so Opheim made a business of remedying that.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

In the late 1980s, Joar Opheim, a School of Business student at Santa Clara University in California, integrated well into the life of Silicon Valley. But he longed for one facet of everyday life in Bodø, the Norwegian city north of the Arctic Circle on the mainland and just south of the southern tip of the Lofoten Island chain, where he had been born in June 1959, brought up, and schooled until he went abroad in for higher education.

That facet was tran, the ubiquitous cod liver oil that Norwegian children grow up with, one spoonful a day. In school, they learn that tran is rich in vitamins A and D, and later they may learn that it contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, all beneficial to health. If they’re curious, they may ask about Möllers, the brand on the bottle, and be told that it’s the surname of Norwegian pharmacist Peter Möller, who in 1854 devised a new way to make tran more palatable and founded a company to manufacture it.

Student Opheim satisfied his longing for tran by filling his suitcase with bottles of Möllers Tran to take back to California whenever he was home on vacation. With time, he realized that the effort of carrying suitcases full of Möllers Tran eastward across the Atlantic signaled a business opportunity. So he set about further development of fish oil from the High North, including flavoring, taste, delivery, and processing to suit it to the American market.

MBA in hand in 1988, Opheim went on to acquire business acumen in the competitive world of Silicon Valley business, mostly by working for Seagate Technology, a leading supplier to the burgeoning personal computer market of the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1995 he founded Nordic Naturals to further develop and manufacture fish oils, its name a reflection of the progenitor of the part of the world of Opheim’s heritage and also the source of the oils on which it was based.

The rest is history. Today Nordic Naturals offers more than 150 fish oil products, in a range of flavors and compositions for specific benefits and needs. Its products are distributed to more than 30 countries on six continents, expanded proof of the Norwegian adage that tran er sunt, året rundt (tran is healthy, year-round).

The word: The Norwegian word tran can be traced back to the Low German word trān, the root of the modern German word trän (teardrop). The Old Norse word for it was lýse, meaning “illumination medium,” as it was first used as a fuel in oil lamps.

The company: Nordic Naturals, Inc., 111 Jennings Drive, Watsonville, CA 95076, tel: (800) 662-2544, email:, website:

This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.