Exploring the Stories of Challenger Brands and How They Intersect with American Agriculture
Gift From the Sea. Our minds go right to fish and shellfish, maybe even to Jesus enabling a big catch, but what if the most sustainable gift is a plant?
We are all aware of how healthy eating fish tends to be. Many of us are aware also that some commonly eaten fish are bioaccumulations of toxins as well as healthy compounds such as vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Doesn’t it make sense to eat some of the healthy things the fish are eating? Isn’t this doubly true if this can be done deliciously? How about triply if the product can reduce the impacts of Carbon Dioxide acidification on our Oceans and revitalize the economy of an entire region?
If this this is a new idea to you, it is not at ALL new to traditional coastal peoples all over the world — in Europe for example, the nutrient dense properties of seaweed have not only been used for food directly, but to enrich farmer’s fields and make natural and healthy food additives. This has also been true in Asia (especially in Longevity Superpower Okinawa), but it has always tended to be coastal communities that considered this normal, even though seaweed has always been just about one of the healthiest things people can eat!
Not only is seaweed famously nutrient dense, including micronutrients much like alfalfa does, the density is also highly bioavailable compared to many other food sources (such as spinach); on top of that, it is a highly cleansing, detoxifying food source.
Will seaweed become more of a staple in the American Diet? A new company called Blue Evolution is hoping so; they source from North America and perform minimal processing on their product.
Read my interview with Founder Beau Perry below:
Tell me about your company — what is your origin story — why did you decide to launch a company?
I saw an opportunity to use business to create a virtuous cycle. The products we make with seaweed provide a unique taste and added health benefits to the products they are part of (like pasta). Seaweed actually improves the environmental problems that affect the ocean and our planet while also bringing economic vitality back to the parts of North America that used to rely solely on fishing for their income. These principles are the foundation that Blue Evolution was founded on.
That’s where we are now — but like any good story, there was a process and a journey to get here.
I graduated from an MBA program into the Great Recession – not a great time to try to get a job. I was working on a fishing project in Mexico. I watched for a long time the decline of fisheries in that area. It had a big impact on me.
Across the value chain, the fishing industry had been eroded and the communities that used to be supported by it were going downhill as well. It was depressing to see. The whole ecosystem was in decline – including the people part of that.
I worked on many aquaculture projects — eventually when feeding seaweed to the shrimp I realized I should probably focus on the seaweed itself, so I started the company as Premium Oceanic in 2013.
We work very closely with our seaweed supply-chain, which is located in Mexico and Alaska. We know all our growers well and in some cases we own the farms that produce the seaweed we use. In other cases, we sell the seaweed seed of the varieties we want to use to growers in our network. Our company is both in the farming business — growing the seaweed crop, and we are manufacturing our own shelf-stable Blue Evolution products that include seaweed as a key, unique ingredient. In this way, we are giving people a way to access the ocean — and in fact, help to make it better through our brand.
Tell me more about the products you make.
We have created a line of seaweed-infused pastas: rotini, penne and shells and cheese that people tell us have a great, unique taste. We also offer a gluten-free version of shells and cheese and a marinara seasoning product.
By adding seaweed into pasta, we are bringing a unique flavor into the pasta and giving it a nice nutritional boost. You don’t have to use a lot of the ingredient to get a big benefit. Seaweed has a lot of fiber, and it helps you digest more slowly. It also lowers the glycemic index — even using 3% seaweed can put a good dent in the glycemic index if you continue to eat it over time.
And of course, as we increase that inclusion, the health affect only increases – and people’s taste for it will advance. Right now, we are a niche product because breaking into the food industry is very hard. But our goal is very much to become a staple product with broad appeal — something that people in Kansas love as much as we do on the coasts.
Ingredient selection seems to be very important to your company. How did you decide on the ingredients themselves and where to source them?
As an ingredient, seaweed is very good for you. As a category, it has low environmental impact and great nutritional upside. We are bio-prospectors. We can pull in different species, test them and decide which are the better ones for consumption and use those.
We have created a balanced set of criteria that has guided our seaweed variety selection. We focus on what can we grow well, which varieties are the tastiest and what will be affordable for consumers. We have found many species that meet one or two of these advantages – but we focus on the ones that can deliver all three.
The processing is a key step to make sure you aren’t damaging the good stuff. We have our own hallmark process for creating seaweed ingredients. We can apply that processing tech to any kind of seaweed. Kelp may have protein less than 10% but the seaweed Pyropia which makes up nori sheets commonly used in sushi — have a high protein content similar to beef.
Seaweed is gluten free of course, and there is no GMO seaweed. We don’t even move species around let alone modify them. Organic doesn’t apply well because the standards weren’t really built to apply to our category.
You could make the case that seaweed is actually better than organic depending on where you grow it — the water is your soil; no need to test for metals, etc. — but if you grow in the right natural environment, you will have a pristine product.
Where we grow onshore, we use natural nutrients to supplement the growing process.
Is it difficult getting the uninitiated to try seaweed?
Once they try pasta, people usually say “Wow, that’s actually really good!” — then they are open to trying products with a bit more seaweed or they can sprinkle it on eggs, which is what I do — and helps people get past the initial strange idea of it. The pasta gives us a vehicle to introduce seaweed to people.
Right now, seaweed is not the bulk of what you are buying, it is the special ingredient – so we are very careful with its nutritional value.
We can start people on Ulva, which is a mild tasting species. You want to harvest it right – it doesn’t react well to time or heat (think of a fish on the beach).If you process it quickly and freeze it, you preserve the mild flavor and nutritional value. We don’t air dry our seaweed — so ours tastes better and retains more of the nutritional benefits.
Check back soon for part two of my interview with Blue Evolution founder Beau Perry where he talks more about his farm-centric supply-chain and the environmental benefits from seaweed-based products that are just waiting to be captured.