In partnership with 16 small kelp farms along the Maine coast, Atlantic Sea Farms in Saco is looking to reach more consumers with a number of initiatives underway.
Atlantic Sea Farms was originally Ocean Approved, the country’s first kelp farm, with farms off Portland and a processing plant in Saco. The term “ocean-approved” will be retained as a trademark seal, Atlantic Sea Farms CEO Brianna Warner told Mainebiz. Atlantic Sea Farms grows, processes and sells kelp and kelp products.
Warner became CEO of Ocean Approved last July. She had been a Senior Community Development Officer at the Island Institute in Rockland, where she created a program that helped fishermen diversify into shellfish and shellfish aquaculture.
Since Warner took over, the company has changed its name, raised capital, increased the number of partner farms it works with, built a sales team and developed retail products, she said. .
Retail products will be available online within a week, she said. The Atlantic Sea Farms website launched on April 16.
Atlantic Sea Farms has almost doubled the number of partner farms over the past year.
Ocean Approved had previously developed ready-made kelp and kelp cubes for the restaurant industry. New products since then include Sea-Chi, a fermented product similar to kimchi; and Sea-Beet Kraut, a probiotic vegan sauerkraut. In development is the seaweed salad.
Courtesy / Atlantic Sea Farms
From left to right, James Crimp, director of supply chain for Atlantic Sea Farms, Briana Warner, CEO and Jesse Baines, director of sales and marketing.
The products are available for the restaurant industry and for retail sale. Atlantic Sea Farms is the only company in the United States to produce value-added kelp products on a large scale, Warner said. The packaging and website will include recipes. Overall, Warner said, the goal is to make it easy for consumers to incorporate kelp into their diet.
The company worked with Minnie Luong, owner of Chi Kitchen Foods in Rhode Island, to develop the value-added products. Production will take place at the Saco facilities of Atlantic Sea Farms and Rhode Island.
The level of production depends on the amount of kelp harvested. The harvest season started last week.
âWe are in the second week of the harvest season,â said Warner. “We don’t yet know what that will look like for volume.”
Kelp is frozen at the Saco facility within 24 hours of harvest. The company employs four full-time employees and additional employees during the production season.
The production process is proprietary.
The company received its first orders from points of sale. Retailers in Maine are accepting the product, she said. An e-commerce platform should be ready within two weeks.
âPeople should see them in stores near them soon,â Warner said.
Warner said Atlantic Sea Farms will market through restaurant channels, online and at retail outlets.
Relationships with partner farms, from Portland to Eastport, grew out of those previously developed by Ocean Approved and its previous aquaculture program with the Island Institute.
Funding for the new initiatives came from $ 1.34 million raised in equity and $ 630,000 in convertible debt, according to Initiated at Maine startup.
The market may be ripe for kelp products.
âRight now there are very few seaweed products on the market that consumers can easily figure out what to do with,â she said. âMost of the seaweed is imported from Asia. Everything is dried, so it is difficult for the home chef to know what to do with it. There are creative snack products that use seaweed, but none allow a home cook to easily incorporate them into a dish. We believe that offering fresh vs. dried and dehydrated produce is important in allowing kelp to taste the way it should.
Kelp is nutritious and good for the marine environment, Warner said. Raising kelp is also another way for fishermen and others to diversify their income.
Even small farms can grow kelp in high density.
âYou can grow a little kelp in a small patch,â Warner said. “If you’re growing three to seven pounds per foot of line and you’ve got 18,000 feet of line in the water, that’s a lot of kelp.”
Work is underway to increase the capacity of the farm.
âBut we are not looking for aggressive farm expansion,â she added.