How I started selling abroad – Seaweed & Co

Success Story 15 June 2016

Region/Nation North East
Sector Hospitality, Accommodation and Food Service Activities
Programme Start Up Loans

Seaweed & Co, was founded by Craig Rose with the help of a Start Up Loan. Based in North Shields, this international seaweed seller is all about what Craig describes as ‘the most exciting superfood around.’

The Seaweed itself, harvested in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, goes towards supplying British seaweed to consumers across the globe. Selling abroad has been a great way for Seaweed & Co to grow their business.

What inspired you to start Seaweed & Co?

I had previously trained as a marine biologist and set up a business consulting on marine environmental and sustainability issues. After selling this to a larger consultancy firm, who I subsequently joined, I worked on a project looking at seaweed for bio energy. Working on this got me involved with seaweed and I saw the massive food and nutrition opportunities in seaweed and decided to get involved.

What did you use your Start Up Loan for?

I used the Start Up Loan to invest in technologies and develop our product. I wanted to supply customers with a high-quality, scalable and sustainable product. As well as the funding there has been some great support from my delivery partner Virgin Start Up.

Seaweed used by Seaweed and Co

What was the main challenge in starting up?

The thing that was most frustrating was timescales, I wanted to push things through but often had to wait for issues to be resolved. My career in the nutrition and marine environment industry means I have good business contacts, but when looking to export issues like the cost of travelling abroad to meet with potential distributors made things difficult.

Have any other government schemes provided help for you to export?

UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) run a great scheme called Passport to Export which provided a grant allowing us to travel to a trade show in the USA and establish connections with distributors there. The Passport to Export team has provided terrific support, even going as far as to recommend awards that Seaweed & Co should enter.

What made you decide to start selling abroad? And which countries do you export to?

Seaweed & Co exports to Europe, the USA and is currently looking at how to get more involved in the Asian market. Our UK business at Seaweed & Co already went through distributors so exporting around the globe was no more difficult from a distribution standpoint. We recognised that the business was definitely scalable and that there was significant space to start selling abroad.

What was your first step to exporting?

The first step was finding distributors and creating relationships with them. Distributors buy your goods and sell them overseas. This removes a lot of the stress of working in a new, foreign market. An overseas distributor can take care of transporting your product, dealing with customs and can be cost-effective as they deliver in bulk.

How has exporting affected your business?

The additional revenue has been great and we hope to grow in the future! We had some challenges with regulations when exporting to different countries, particularly the USA. The UK and the USA have different sets of regulations for ingredient lists for products. To keep ahead of the game we developed our own system which ensured all ingredients are traceable.

In fact we went as far as to ensure that on our website you can track each batch of product back to the individual person who collected the seaweed. This has been useful not just in meeting customs requirements around the world, but also in building trust with consumers. Selling abroad has driven us forward, encouraged innovation and helped build trust for our brand in the UK market too.

How did you know your product would stand out when selling abroad?

A lot of our distributors approached us, so we had a good idea that there was demand in our export markets. Internationally there is a real perception of Scottish food and drink being high quality. The fact that our seaweed is sourced from the Outer Hebrides has been great for our brand.

What advice would you give to other businesses looking to export?

Get on with it! Exporting has its difficulties but it is certainly worth the time. The most important thing I’ve found is finding partners in other countries that you can trust. At the end of the day partner organisations can be thousands of miles away and be in control of your product and brand. On top of all the agreements and contracts to ensure partners act responsibly, you need to make sure you know, trust and like these organisations.