Wild Irish Seaweed, founded by the Talty family on the coast of West Clare, is riding high and recently had success in the Dragon’s Den. Evan tells us about the origins of the company and their plans for future expansion.
Tell us a bit about how Wild Irish Seaweeds started – where did the passion for seaweed begin?
Seaweed has been part of the family for four generations – my great grandfather was harvesting seaweed back in the 1900s. It’s always been a tradition in West Clare, but with the recession hitting in the early 2000s we started to explore the industry further, and we realised there was a market there to sell quality seaweed products. We started off very small, concentrating on selling to local shops, but then it just snowballed. Demand really increased and we decided to up production and build a factory to manufacture more high quality seaweed food products. We now employ 11 people full time and have a total of 22 working with us over the summer.
How have you seen the public response and use of seaweed products change since founding?
Certainly around about 2011 there was a real trend towards seaweed products. Everyone was generally starting to become more conscience of health and wellbeing and there were quite a few publications around that time touting seaweed as a superfood. Because we were somewhat established with our premises and market presence we were in a good position to take advantage of that and position ourselves as the market leader. When we started out there was one other seaweed manufacturer in Galway, which is government owned and concentrates mostly on animal feed. Obviously that’s quite niche so we didn’t feel we could compete with that, so we concentrated on producing a high quality range of products for people.
You’re very much a family business – what are your individual roles and how do you work together?
My parents would have been there from the start setting up Wild Irish Seaweed as it is today, my mum still takes care of the accounts around her own full time job and my dad works for the ESB but will still be on hand to harvest and support the general running of the factory, so they work very hard. My sister and I run the company day to day.
How instrumental has support from the local business community been to your success?
Both Enterprise Ireland and the New Frontiers programme at the Hartnett Centre in LIT have been so valuable to the business. I signed up to New Frontiers at a very last minute recommendation, and it was one of the best things I ever did – it helped take us from a farmer’s market seller to a mainstream business operation.
Talk us through your experience on Dragon’s Den? What has happened since Alison invested?
Dragon’s Den was a great experience – a lot of people commented on how well we pitched and asked how we managed it, and again that was down to New Frontiers and having to pitch with them every two months, so we were well primed by then! Alison Cowzer, owner of the East Coast Bakehouse invested €50,000 for 10% of the company. We’re in planning stages at the moment about how to grow exports over the next two years. We’re expanding the factory and laying the foundations for further growth – we’ve doubled turnover year on year and want to do the same this year and next. We got so far on our own – often on a wing and a prayer! – but now is the time to really professionalise our operation, and with Enterprise Ireland coming in with €200,000 investment in us as a High Potential startup we can do what we plan to do.
Where can people find your products?
We are currently in 600 stores around Ireland, 140 of those are SuperValu and we are also in Dunnes Stores and health food shops around the country.
Do you also still conduct Seaweed Safari tours? Do you think it is important to educate and encourage people to harvest their own seaweed?
With our focus on exports and production the seaweed tours have taken a bit of a backseat, as they are very time consuming, but we still hope to find ways to encourage people to learn about seaweed nutrition and how to harvest. One thing we are hoping to do is take Wild Irish Seaweed into schools with talks to educate young people on seaweed and the industry.
Article by: Kayleigh Ziolo
Photography by: John Kelly