Seaweed is in plentiful supply in the British Isles which does make you wonder why we don’t eat it more often. I hope your enjoy my interview with Jane who wondered and then set about setting up a seaweed business. I loved hearing more about her life and the really straightforward advice she offers women who are considering taking the leap of faith into a new business.
Tell us a little about your childhood and teenage years
I grew up in Cumbria with my mum and my sister. (My dad died when I was 2 years old). We were lucky to have a really outdoorsy upbringing with amazing access to the beautiful Lake District. I didn’t have any great love of food or interest in cooking as a young one, but I definitely developed a love of the outdoors which has never gone away.
What was your first career?
I had a seventeen-year career in the environmental sector – working for a number of environmental consultancies and then in local government. I did all sorts during that time – environmental impact assessment, environmental planning, renewable energy planning, and carbon management. I enjoyed it and learnt loads.
Where did your interest in food and seaweed come from?
I didn’t give food or nutrition much of a thought until my thirties, but once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop! Food and cooking became a source of huge pleasure and interest. I am an incorrigible experimenter in the kitchen. I enjoy looking at recipes for inspiration, but I find it almost impossible to follow them to the letter. I’m really into using food to optimise health, and trying to make food choices that benefit (or at least minimise negative impacts on) people and the environment.
I have always loved to be beside the sea, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to view the seaweed that grows around our shores as food. I had been talking to a friend who had worked for a stint on a seaweed farm in Japan about how incredibly nutritious it is, and why we don’t eat it much here. I went on a seaweed foraging course and started to learn which seaweeds were which, and about their different flavours, and my interest really grew from there. Seaweed suddenly presented a whole new and incredibly nutritious food group for me to experiment with, and experiment I did!
Foraging for seaweed is an absolute delight. I heartily recommend it. Once you start to see seaweed as food you can never look at the coast in the same way.
What led to you set up Octopus’s Garden Seaweed?
The more I got into seaweed, the more I wondered why we’re not all eating it on a regular basis. I found that there were quite a few businesses in the UK harvesting seaweed and selling it dried (either milled, or as whole fronds). But there was little in the way of seaweed from the British Isles being made into other products with seaweed as the main ingredient. I hadn’t realised that I had an entrepreneurial bone in my body, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a business angle there.
For me, seaweed seemed to provide a way of joining up my passions for food, wellbeing and the environment. My two maternity leaves gave me some headspace (or at least – time not at work!) to develop my business ideas a bit. I experimented with all sorts of seaweed products – pesto, tapenade, tea, biscuits and crisps. But I initially settled on seaweed stock as a unique product which captures some of the key nutritional benefits of seaweed (particularly iodine) in a user-friendly way, and with relatively uncomplicated requirements in terms of packaging, storage etc.
Much food testing later, I felt about ready to start trying to sell the seaweed stock. It was impossible to find the time whilst working and juggling childcare, so I decided to take the plunge and leave my job. It felt like a massive leap into the unknown, and a big risk financially but I couldn’t help but think if I didn’t try, I would always wonder where it could have gone.
Tell us about your products and why you think they are special?
I now sell two different products – Umami Drops, and Pickled Seaweed.
People said they liked my seaweed stock but wanted something more concentrated where the lovely flavour of the Dabberlocks seaweed is more intense, and that could be used as a condiment on finished plates of food. So the seaweed stock evolved into Umami Drops, which are super-concentrated drops of seaweed essence that provide a delicious sweet / savoury flavour burst (without the use of sugar or salt! Clever stuff, seaweed!) and act as a natural flavour enhancer. They work really well on avocado, seafood, stir fries, soups, cheese on toast etc.
Pickled Seaweed is a revolution for the pickle category! It is nutritious, refined sugar-free and bursting with fresh flavour. It makes a great accompaniment for seafood, sandwiches, toasties, cheese and biscuits, burgers, salads, and just about anything else! It is made with just four ingredients – including root ginger which gives it a real punch.
I think the products are special because they are genuinely unique; they make it easy to eat seaweed; they taste delicious and they are really good for you. They have been carefully developed with quality ingredients and clean eating in mind. Not only that, but seaweed is a fantastic choice environmentally. It doesn’t take up land or require any freshwater, pesticides or fertilisers, and it makes total sense for us to eat it here in the British Isles – endowed as we are with a long coastline with an abundance of beautiful seaweed. The seaweed used in my products is grown on ropes at sea in a Marine Conservation Zone in Northern Ireland.
The products are available on my Website – www.octopusgardenseaweed.co.uk
What tip would you give to someone who wants to set up a business for the first time?
Maybe it’s useful to think about what’s the worst that could happen, and if you’re willing to take that risk – then do it. Perhaps it’s useful to compare with the worst that could happen if you don’t do it, as well. For me – that would’ve been always wondering if I could have made a go of a seaweed business, but not doing it, and that wasn’t something I wanted to live with.
If you could recommend ONE book to women, what would it be and why?
Not just for women, but for parents (and their children) – I love many of the books by Dr Seuss. They never get boring to read and some of them come with really important messages packaged in an amazing way for children. If I had to choose just one it would be The Sneetches.
If you could recommend ONE website to women what would it be and why?
If like me you need regular reminders to be more present to the moment then I really recommend https://www.facebook.com/LifeWithoutACentre/. Reading these posts that pop up in my Facebook feed can really change my perspective on my day, and help me to remember to treat it as more than a list of tasks to be ticked off.