- The U.S Department of Agriculture awarded Maine-based VitaminSea a $600,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop a seaweed-based bread called SeaKelp+, according to BakeryandSnacks.
- Last year, the USDA provided the company $100,000 to begin developing the prototype, but this second round of funding will allow the company to begin recipe collaborations with bakeries and start market testing.
- VitaminSea already provides seaweed for a variety of products, including energy bars, chocolate and animal supplements.
Seaweed is set to become a major trend in Western markets. According to Innova Market Insights, sea vegetables such as seaweed, nori, kelp, and wakame saw 21% growth in new product launches from 2012 to 2016, and the commercial seaweed market is projected to reach $17.59 billion by 2021.
With such growth potential, it’s no wonder that companies are becoming creative with their applications for the ingredient. Seaweed is known for its many health benefits. It contains nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid. It’s also low in calories and is vegan, gluten-free and kosher. This unique combination makes it an attractive ingredient to many consumers whose tastes coincide with a number of current food trends, including plant-based diets, exotic ingredients and environmentally friendly foods.
The USDA is likely interested in funding VitaminSea’s research because of the potential public health benefits associated with a commercially successful seaweed-based bread. Besides having nutritional benefits, seaweed is carbon negative, absorbing carbon dioxide from the sea. It is also fast-growing and requires no fresh water or fertilizer. If VitaminSea is able to produce a popular alternative product to traditional wheat-based bread, both the environment and the general population will benefit.
However, depending on the taste profile and the look of the bread, VitaminSea may struggle to market SeaKelp+. Although research recently indicated that consumers are more likely to buy wraps that contained seaweed, it also showed they are just as interested in those that contained 5% seaweed as options with 50% or 100% seaweed. At the 100% seaweed level, consumers were hesitant to try the product due to questions about texture, taste, aroma and flavor.
Likewise, if SeaKelp+ tastes too much like the ocean or has a green tinge, it may cause consumers to associate their product with molding bread — not a good way to convince would-be customers to purchase a product. At the same time, bakeries and supermarkets that would distribute the bread may also be turned off by its appearance.
If the seaweed producer can successfully collaborate with a bakery to develop a neutral colored and tasting product, there is little doubt that it will be in demand. Already, seaweed-based foods are starting to take off, including “sea spaghetti” from firms like Seamore Foods, Atlantic Kitchen, Wild Irish Seaweeds and Mara Seaweed. Snack products like kelp jerky from New York-based start-up Shoreline and seaweed chips from Ocean’s Halo, as well as VitaminSea itself have also shown to be popular.
While no prototype or recipe is yet in existence, with more than half a million dollars to extend experimentation, it will be interesting to see what creative recipes the producer comes up with in efforts to get more seaweed in people’s diets.