If everything goes according to plan for Sidney’s Cascadia Seaweed, seaweed-based foods could appear on local shelves in the spring of 2021, with more growth ahead.
“When the products hit the shelves, we are then going to want to scale up even faster to hit the demand,” said Erin Bremner-Mitchell, manager of communications and engagement.
The company continues to grow, while researching and testing various types of seaweed-based foods including a vegan jerk, fresh salads and on-the-go snacks.
“We know that seaweed can service somebody’s day from morning to night and all their on-the-go, in-between (snack needs),” said Bremner-Mitchell. “I think the market is hungry for a solution just like this one,” she said later in pointing to the growing global demand for food products that are not only nutritious but also less harmful on the environment because of their growing practices.
Seaweed, specifically the sugar kelp the company grows in partnership with First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island, checks many boxes. Long a part of traditional First Nation diets, it is rich in protein, easily grown and binds harmful gases responsible for climate change. It also does not take much effort to incorporate into a meal.
Founded in 2019 with the goal of being the largest provider of seaweed in North America, the company is starting to get recognition beyond industry insiders through awards and growing media coverage, including Time, which cited the company as well as its partners in a lengthy online article about the seaweed industry as a response to the dual problems of global climate change and food security.
Bill Collins, company chair, said it is both gratifying and about time for British Columbia companies in the industry to receive recognition for the work they are doing in helping to solve global problems.
He added that the article will increase brand awareness for the company, and more importantly its First Nations partners. “We have to make sure that we have champions through and through,” he said. “We want to go on record as putting Sidney on the map in terms of seaweed.”
Collins said Pepsico has reached out to the company after the article’s appearance. “Their research department is looking for new innovative flavours and they want samples of our seaweed,” he said. The company has also already drawn attention from those looking to invest. “So just about every week over the last two months, we have had some conversation with investors in that community,” he said.
While seaweed already appears in many household and food products, be it toothpaste, cosmetics or taco seasoning, Cascadia Seaweed is also exploring other uses that align with the company’s environmental ethics.
Kennedy Nikel, applied marine biologist with the company, is currently working on developing seaweed-based feed for cows that promise to reduce their methane emissions.
“Our goal is to hopefully reduce methane emissions by 90 per cent using seaweed,” she said.
Seaweed also has medical applications and can be used to create packaging that would ape plastic but without its harmful effects, she said.
Nikel also points to the more general benefits of seaweed. “Algae is responsible for 50 per cent of the world’s oxygen. So whenever you say, ‘plant more trees, plant more trees,’ you should be growing more seaweed.”
Plenty of challenges remain ahead but for Bremner-Mitchell, the potential appears immense. “We believe there is room in the industry in British Columbia for nine other companies just like Cascadia, who want an aggressive scale-up plan just like us,” she said.
“We originally thought that 100 hectares was going to service the demand. Now, we don’t even think a 1000 hectares is enough. We truly believe that we are building a sector.”
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