- The U.K. supermarket chain Tesco has started stocking ground seaweed products for consumers wanting to reduce their sodium intake and add umami flavors to their food, Food Ingredients First reported. The natural salt replacement is being sold under the Mara Seaweed brand and is sourced from Scotland.
- Seaweed is 85% lower in sodium than salt on average. Excess sodium can elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, Tesco told the publication. Seaweed also offers minerals such as iodine, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc.
- Mara Seaweed founder Fiona Houston told Food Ingredients First that hopefully one day people will be shaking seaweed products on their chips instead of salt. "The Tesco deal is not only a game-changer for us but for the whole growing seaweed industry," she said. "It will mean seaweed as a healthy and tasty alternative to salt being introduced to more shoppers than ever before."
As sodium becomes less popular among consumers, seaweed could step in to become a popular alternative. A big advantage to this partnership between Mara's and Tesco could be that the exposure the brand is getting may lead to more retail partnerships and product awareness.
The seaweed product checks a lot of boxes for consumers today. In addition to its reported health benefits, this seaweed is also harvested sustainably — a factor increasingly important to consumers in determining which products to buy. Mara, which is working with seaweed producers in North Atlantic areas to guarantee a regular supply, allows consumers to know where their product comes from and who is producing it.
The process of making the seaweed product is relatively simple, so it could be something other manufacturers decide to invest in as well. Water from two large handfuls of seaweed is extracted, and the result is milled into flakes to make one 20-gram sachet. Mara currently offers two different product types — Shony, which is a mix of salty and sweet flavors, and Sea-Spice, which is seaweed, sesame seeds and chili flakes.
Other brands are finding ways to incorporate seaweed into products. Various forms of seaweed are showing up in snacks, jerky, pasta, vegetarian caviar and even edible food wrappers. According to a report from Grand View Research, the global commercial seaweed market is expected to grow at a rate of 8.9% from 2018 to 2024. In 2016, the market was valued at $11.1 billion.
In the U.S., sea vegetables such as seaweed, nori, kelp, and wakame saw 21% growth in new product launches from 2012 to 2016, according to figures from Innova Market Insights. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has shown confidence in seaweed's potential by awarding VitaminSea a $600,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop a seaweed-based bread called SeaKelp+.
While not all Americans consume seaweed, food manufacturers such as Campbell's Soup and PepsiCo's Frito-Lay have used umami-flavored ingredients in low-sodium and reduced-fat products to add depth to typically bland foods.
Add in the salt replacement factor and seaweed's promise may be even greater. Sodium reduction has been on the industry's radar for years and most people are aware that they need to reduce their salt intake. Average per-capita daily sodium consumption in the U.S. is approximately 3,400 milligrams, or almost 50% more than the recommended level.
If seaweed-based mixtures approximate a salty taste while adding a flavor boost, Mara and other similar products could be a hit with consumers. The price could be an obstacle for some, however, since 20 grams of the brand's seaweed-sourced salt replacer costs about $3.86 at Tesco. In contrast, Morton's sea salt is about 22 cents per ounce on Amazon.
The challenge will be convincing consumers to try a more sustainable seaweed-sourced alternative and hope they come back for more if they find the product is worth the money. Outreach and education about the health benefits, sustainability assets and even taste could be key in maintaining the interest of consumers.