We are working to be the first producers of fresh and frozen 'ready to use' kelp products in Europe with our Islander® Kelp
We have prototyped a range of kelp products and our kelp noodles, tagliatelle, salad cut products and kelp pesto (a world first we think?) are stunning, bright green in colour, with an al dente texture and subtle ocean flavour.
Our products are versatile, healthy, organic and good for the environment - as well as good to eat and good for you. Kelp with nothing added, and that means more calcium and iron than any other vegetable, .2 grms salt per 100 grms product, and only 16 kcals per 100 grm.
A rapidly growing market for kelp superfood products is emerging in Europe, as well as the US, and of course Asia, where supplies from Japan have been hit by the Fukishima disaster. We have secured a number of buyers in the in the British isles and are heading to Korea this November which we understand from contacts has real market potential. We are also interested in exploring the market in west coast US.
The project is led by islanders, including a local fisherman, wishing to diversify into a viable enterprise that uses marine resources in a sustainable way.
Our organic kelp is grown on ropes just off the shores of Rathlin Island - of the north coast of Ireland. The tides mix the Atlantic and Irish Seas and along with the Gulf Stream produce perfect conditions for pristine kelp growth year round.
We can grow a lot of the stuff, 000's tons actually, but processing it is expensive. We need to fit out a processing unit and buy expensive equipment. We need to have an operating lab to bring ahead spools of string with (indigenous) baby kelp plants for transfer to the ropes. We are training islanders to be lab technicians and are the first commercial lab for baby kelp production in Britain and Ireland (outside the University sector).
Our project can create a long term and sustainable industry for the small island community (just 120 people) of Rathlin Island. We can create at least 7 jobs and ensure a future for local fishermen through what we call phase 1 - processing around 20,000kgs before upscaling to process >100,000kgs.
Risks and challenges
There are numerous risks and challenges, these include:
Risk 1 - not being able to process profitably
We are a 'clone' business. Our business and product model is based on that of Ocean Approved in Maine US www.oceanapproved.com who are giving us technical assistance and will potentially buy product from us "to meet market demand beyond their growing capacity". It took them four years to turn a profit, and we hope to short circuit the timescale by getting support from them and using a Lean Start approach to the business - whereby we are using existing resources on the island and a 'Heath Robinson' approach to creating ideal equipment – and ‘fail quickly to learn’.
Ocean Approved have shared everything with us other than processing methodology and equipment - and this is where the 'secret' and exclusivity really lies with the project. It’s tricky to do it well. Our own processing research is completed and we are ready to commission for manufacture the ideal solution for our products. Also, we have 'cost free' access to Rathlin Island Seafoods premises, equipment and boats. This will enable us to get to profitability before we need to invest in facilities of our own.
Risk 2 Getting stuck in first phase production.
This risk is about getting dependent on our easy to sell locally kelp pesto and not moving on to the bigger game - the kelp noodles and salad products with global exports etc. This is likely to be triggered by cash flow issues and lack of capital to invest.
The potential for a phase 2 is 80,000+kgs of product worth 2million, and that’s just using our wee Rathlin site (we would love to replicate in other coastal locations – especially islands!), but processing in bulk will require a new level of infrastructure – and investment. Therefore, while ‘doing phase 1’ to secure our market and cashflow, our business plan is really for the bigger picture.
We have also brought in two external non shareholding mentors/advisors, both with experience in scaled up businesses.
Risk 3 Getting to the right market
The market for seaveg products is definitely growing in Europe. Every other cookery programme and article extols its values. But it’s still new to the mainstream market and most people aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Meanwhile Asia has long been a huge producer, consumer and exporter of the stuff – but mostly dried and milled, much of questionable quality. Japan has been the top producer of quality product, and much Japanese kelp may be still safe to eat – but the market has lost confidence in it. Market opportunities in the US also fall into the same two sectors – a) for Asian food, and b) for new cuisine. The latter may offer higher rewards in terms of value, the former in terms of demand and scale. There may be different requirements around the product as well and of course the cost of distribution will be a critical consideration. It is essential to secure export markets – but also to build on those which are most profitable and the most likely to grow. Getting to these markets requires knowledge, dedication and determination. There will be little room for error.
Challenge 1 Enough staff with the right skills.
We have a really good start up team, along with myself we have fisherman Benji (– and his brothers!), and other islanders who are working hard on the project (mostly voluntary!!) are Helen, Ksenia, , Sarah and Brian. They have participated in the lab training and Ksenia has worked on branding and invented our fabulous pesto.
However, the island only has a population of 120 people, and as we grow it may be challenging to secure all the skills and numbers of staff we need there. At the same time, having a new kelp industry (kelp was wild harvested kelp on Rathlin for generations) is really important opportunity to sustain the island.
The strategy will be to build the team, rewards (like training in Maine), going to enterprise support workshops and food shows will go along with good team planning. This should help develop skills and make the business appealing to other would be employees. Ultimately, if we can’t recruit staff on the island, we would seek to bring people in – helping sustain the population. And, if we grow even more, then we would aim to establish new growing and processing facilities with other vulnerable and remote coastal communities – maybe even other islands.
If you want to pledge £5, we will record your name in our roll of wonderful people that will make our business grow, help demonstrate how marine resources can be used sustainably as an important food source - and support the future of Rathlin Island.
2kgs of kelp products and recipe card (tagliatelle, noodle cut, wraps and kelp pesto - will be sent in November 2014) plus one night free accommodation on the island for 2, an evening meal and trip to the kelp ropes in spring 2015
3 kgs of kelp products and recipe card (tagliatelle, noodle cut, wraps, salad cut and kelp pesto - will be sent November 2015) plus collection from Ballycastle by private boat, 2 nights accommodation for two, evening meal, trip to the kelp ropes and tour of the lab etc in summer 2015.