Could Scottish seaweed be the next Scotch whisky?

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

Seaweed follows in the footsteps of 'global trailblazer' Scotch whiskey
Seaweed follows in the footsteps of 'global trailblazer' Scotch whiskey

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The Scottish seaweed industry seems set to boom as the country's government prepares an expansion policy and company Mara Seaweed seeks over €700,000 to take its condiments global.

CEO and co-founder of Edinburgh-based Mara Seaweed, Fiona Houston, told us export plans for its shake-on seaweed flakes would focus on the markets where Scottish brand image of purity and provenance sold. 

“If you look at Scottish food and drink brands that do well on export, they are really piggy backing on the success of Scottish brands like whisky.” 

The company is seeking £500,000 (€716,913) on the crowdfunding platform Crowd Cube – with £362,325 (€519,511) already secured. It plans to use the money to expand its production facilities and start exporting the seaweed products it said could be the tabletop condiment to replace salt and spices. 

For Robin Worsnop, non-executive chair of Mara, seaweed products like Mara’s were the most innovative idea to come out of Scotland in years. He said they could “potentially be the next Scotch malt whisky”​ for the country. 

The Scottish government seems to agree, with a Seaweed Policy Statement on the future of the aquaculture sector expected this summer and Scotland’s food minister Richard Lochhead visiting the company’s plant this year. 

Exporting a reputation 

Trade body Scotland Food and Drink called Scotch whisky a “global trailblazer” ​for fellow Scottish brands. 

Mara said it would follow the body’s advice on the 15 markets that held opportunities for exporting Scottish brands because of existing market presence – initially focusing on Spain, Germany, Hong Kong,

scottish scotland UK

Singapore and China. 

Houston said competing with existing Asian seaweed firms was not a concern since their higher price brought with it inferred provenance and safety of British products and the unpolluted waters of the Scottish coast. 

New marine focus 

Currently the Scottish aquaculture industry is dominated by Atlantic salmon – with an estimated 163,234 tonnes and a farm gate price of £677m (€971.5m) produced in 2013 making Scotland the largest producer in the EU and third largest globally. 

However, the Scottish government noted that along with salmon and other fish and shellfish, seaweed was taking on increasing importance for the marine sector.

In a draft of its upcoming Seaweed Policy Statement, the Scottish government wrote: “Historically, Scotland's seaweed industry has been based upon the small-scale harvesting of seaweed in the wild, a practice that continues to the present day. However, the Scottish Government and wider industry have identified that there is potential for the growth of seaweed cultivation, its use in IMTA [Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture], and expansion of harvesting in the wild.”​ 

Houston said the country’s seaweed sector was “really in embryonic days”,​ and more producers and farming and processing protocols were needed. 

“It’s all so new so there aren’t protocols you can just lift off the shelf.”​ 

mara seaweed

Scotland Food and Drink set a target of £16.5bn (€23.6bn) in turnover for the country’s food and drink sector by 2017. Meanwhile Mara set the “ambitious”​ sales target of £1.5m (€2.16m) by next year. 

Health potential – but who knew?

The seaweed salt contains about 10% sodium compared to 98% in sea salts, the company said.

Seaweed was also rich in iodine. A study published in June from researchers at the University of Glasgow said edible algae could be a key tool in fighting UK deficiency of the mineral key to the production of thyroid hormones and therefore the metabolism. 

Yet few seaweed firms were bragging content on pack, they found. 

After testing for levels, Mara products carry a ‘rich in iodine’ claim on pack. Houston said the deficiency had not been taken seriously by the UK government, despite warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

From novel to mainstream 

Edinburgh-based Mara - meaning 'the sea' in Gaelic – was founded in 2011. 

It launched in UK supermarket Marks and Spencer in April this year after previous listings in Harrods, Booths and Harvey Nichols. Houston said this latest development saw the products taken “from novel to mainstream” ​in the UK. 

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