October 24, 2012

Natural Foodie: Demand for VitaminSea products grows like a weed

Demand for the Maine company's SeaCrunch bars and other sea vegetable products is so hot, it can scarcely keep up.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Ideas for products made with sea vegetables keep rolling in like the tides, but the challenge for VitaminSea is finding production partners to help keep up with demand.

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Tom Roth, who founded VitaminSea with his wife, Kelly, gathers rockweed from one of the company’s drying tables. The dried rockweed will be used as an animal feed supplement and natural lawn fertilizer.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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VitaminSea employee Mark Cunningham pulls sun-dried rockweed into a vacumn hose, which carries it to a grinder and bagger pulled by a truck.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Right now, company founders Tom and Kelly Roth have reached capacity with the number of SeaCrunch bars they can make in the licensed commercial kitchen in their Buxton home. They're currently churning out about 1,000 bars a week of the mixture made from almonds, sesame seeds, dried cranberries, kelp and maple syrup. Yet, sales of the bars keep growing and the company plans to introduce two new flavors in the coming weeks, Blueberry (with dried blueberries and dark chocolate) and S'mores (with milk chocolate and marshmallows).

To keep up with the surging demand, the company has contracted with a small bakery in New Hampshire that can produce another 1,000 a week. However, since VitaminSea's projections show they'll soon need to produce up to 3,000 a week, the company is actively searching for a Maine partner capable of handling all the production.

"The scary thing is how much it increases every week," said marketing director Rod Williams, in reference to the company's sales. "We don't dare go into Hannaford, because if you can't keep the shelves full they'll just take it out."

Right now the company's products can be found in locally-owned markets and health food stores. VitaminSea is waiting to approach supermarkets until it can reliably ramp up production.

A relatively new Scarborough-based company that wild harvests seaweed in the cold waters of the Atlantic, VitaminSea is entering a rapid growth phase with a new marketing team, a finance director and an expanding line of products.

In addition to the SeaCrunch bars, its product line includes 'Sea'sonings (a blend of dulse and sea salt) and a selection of dried sea vegetables (including sugar kelp, kombu, wakame, bladderwrack, dulse, sea lettuce, Atlantic nori and Irish moss).

Products under development include a pita chip seasoned with dulse and garlic, croutons seasoned with seaweed, mixed seaweed flakes and seaweed enriched flour.

"There's so many things you can do with seaweed that people don't know," said Kelly Roth, who has written a cookbook, "Simply Sea-Licious," which includes recipes for everything from stir-fries to apple pie that include seaweed. "People think you have to eat a whole bunch of seaweed to get the benefits. But you don't."

The nutritional punch packed by sea vegetables explains the food's growing popularity. Those concerned about health are increasingly adding seaweed to their diets. VitaminSea joins a number of seaweed companies in Maine, including Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, Ocean Approved and Ironbound Island Seaweed.

Kin Liversidge is VitaminSea's vice president of marketing. Both he and Williams worked for natural health and beauty company Tom's of Maine in its early years.

Liversidge first began adding seaweed to his diet 40 years ago following a cancer diagnosis and his subsequent embrace of a macrobiotic diet, which includes a healthy dose of sea vegetables.

"Seaweed in itself offers nutrients we're not getting out of our vegetables," Liversidge said. "I think there's a tremendous future in this product."

In contrast, VitaminSea grew out of an industry where the future isn't as bright.

Tom Roth had been a commercial fisherman for 28 years, when he began hand-harvesting seaweed as a sideline. Initially, he sold the seaweed to lobster companies and quickly reached the point where he was selling 200 bags a week.

At the same time, he knew the fishing industry was becoming more regulated as fish stocks declined. He realized it was a good time to get out of the industry.

With the funds they received from selling the business, the Roths reinvested it in seaweed. A year ago, the Roths expanded their business into edible sea vegetables and related food products.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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VitaminSea’s products include a line of dried sea vegetables, which retail for $7.

Courtesy Photo

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‘Sea’sonings, which sells for $4.99, SeaCrunch bars, which retail for $3.50, and the “Simply Sea-Licious” cookbook, which sells for $12; and a popular sea vegetable, kelp, which is harvested in late winter and early spring in waters off Maine’s coast, air dries in a VitaminSea greenhouse in Scarborough.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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