Green Element weekly podcast Interview with Peter Elbourne from Shore Seaweed

 

Will: If you could tell me a bit more about your business and what you do, I’ve been on your website.

 

Peter: Well, there’s a bit of confusion, we’re in between names at the moment. So, the company is New Wave Foods and that was incorporated in 2015 and that was after three years of research. What we recognize is an opportunity for Scottish seaweed and we saw the opportunity in food. And so, we started with the name New Wave Foods, but we also recognize that there was an opportunity for a brand that would communicate everything much more effectively. And so, when we started as part of the process of thinking how we go about seaweed as food, we also looked at getting the right brand together and that brand is Shore Scottish Seaweed Company. That’s the brand that is ready to go, and so all of our seaweed is now going to be sold on the Shore Scottish Seaweed Company, so that’s the new brand. The first of our product is a plant, so that’s a seaweed box, so that’s our main product. We have another product that’s ready to go and then an NPG process to come up with new products behind it. 

 

Will: What is the environmental impact of seaweed, a lot less than normal crisps? 

 

Peter: Yeah, I’ll give you a bit more background to me as well, but seaweed itself as a material is incredibly sustainable and it requires no fertilizer, it requires no land, no freshwater input and there’s just an amazing opportunity for seaweed. We chose to officiously value based on provenance, quality and sustainability but over time, we want to branch out into new markets for our products as well. So, that’s our core, the ingredient, the tarot that that we all care so much about is incredibly sustainable. 

 

Will: Right.

 

Peter: You may know there’s a lot of talk about using seaweed for fuels and so taking the seaweed carbohydrates out of seaweed and using biogas, bio retinol, and I’m sure that will come in time, but it requires such low cost of production. That’s massive scale production to achieve economies that it’s not going to happen for a long time. It is showing this huge potential for seaweeds and everything in particular Scottish seaweed.

 

Will: How many people are there at Shore?

 

Peter: Sorry?

 

Will: How many people are there at Shore? 

 

Peter: We have 12 people full-time equivalent. One of our challenges is working with the type, so we have a harvesting team up in Wick and they’re out this afternoon, it’s a bit gray and drizzly so [03:50 inaudible] and so to bring the umbrella. And so, there’s a team of about six, seven, eight guys that are out harvesting and depending on the species that were after and the time of the year. There’s a factory team and then head office is where it all ends and that’s where we do the management, the harvest sites and the scientific side of things and it’s where our core functions are happening as well. 

 

Will: Ok, very cool.

 

Peter: A bit more background to me, so I’m a marine biologist. So, I did my PhD at Newcastle and my wife had just finished her PhD and it’s very difficult for two marine biologists to get two jobs at the same time, at same place. In recognition of that, we were coming up to the highlands where Katherine’s parents were living, and we thought well, we like up here so will have a go. I went through various jobs, energy consultancy and then to various things, but I did a lot of work in community projects. So, I did work for a couple of different transition towns, groups and Friends of the Earth, [05:21 inaudible] community energy and sustainable transport projects. 

I was doing that part time and then this opportunity came up to do business research, part time as well and seaweed was a tenth idea that we looked at. In seeing the opportunity for seaweed got bigger and bigger and I became full time a few years ago on the seaweed project. So, I have all this background and environmental work and sustainability and carbon reduction and everything and I want to bring as much of that as possible into this whilst balancing all the challenges of being a start-up and having all the day-to-day stuff to worry about as well. 

 

Will: And what would you say your biggest challenges were? 

 

Peter: In terms of the business as a whole?

 

Will: From an environmental sustainability perspective. 

 

Peter: Yeah. I think it’s very difficult for any small business working in food because a lot of the solutions in the food industry to reduce plastic packaging, to make the option more efficient is achievable at scale. It’s much harder to start up and be successful in putting together a product and the processes where energy is at the forefront. It’s very difficult starting small, but if you don’t start with something, you’ll never be able to get to the point where it can be pulled together. We care so much about the seaweed itself and how important it is, itself as a product is so incredibly sustainable and that’s why we [07:20 inaudible] to managing and safeguarding the environmental sustainability of art, sapphire and seaweed.

 

Will: Is it manufactured? I don’t know, as in do you make the crisps near to where you pick? 

 

Peter: Yeah. So, what we do is we have a factory in Wick and so the guys would go on the factory, they would leave the factory and go out to the harvest sites. We have harvest sites on the North and East coasts of Caithness and the team will go out and they cut the seaweed by hand and they cut different seaweeds in different ways to allow for new growth. There’re some of them, like kelps, have almost like a conveyor belt, so you just cut them above the base, so the plant may regrow. Others grow from the tip, so you just take one half the plant and leave the other half to grow on. So, they harvest by hand, carry back up the shore and back to the factory. 

At the factory, the seaweed is washed, dried, and milled and when seaweed is dried it has a very long shelf life. So, we harvest seasonally to make sure that we’re picking the seaweed when it’s in peak condition and we build up stock for sales year-round. And so, that’s the Wick factory and my role, so I’m the managing director of supply and operations, my responsibility is to oversee the delivery of seaweed from the Shore and through to the product to sell wholesale, effectively by the kilogram. Then we have a managing director of value-add and he takes this raw material and adds value to it with our branded products. So, effectively that’s our main customer and in order to start this process, we have outsourced production of those products to their party manufacturers. 

 

Will: Ok, and do you find that difficult within your supply chain to keep from a sustainability standpoint or do you have quite good controls over?

 

Peter: No, we’re happy with that and we have good traceability and it’s also the only way we can practically start up as well. I’m sure eventually we want to be doing more products where we’re delivering it through to finish retail and hoping it will come over time, but it would be a whole other area of work that we need to learn from scratch and we got everything from scratch over a period from day one. 

 

Will: Yeah, cool. You said you’ve got 12 FTA full time equivalent, how do you engage your staff and how do you get your staff, suppliers, customers, on board with your mission and purpose?

 

Peter: We have that engagement with the staff sustainability, it’s all the way through. People have walked up to us at the factory in Wick and said can I go pick some seaweed for you and give you [10:58 overlapping talk] and we politely said no. So, our harvesters are trained, and we take them through how to cut the different species, the different types of seaweed. One thing, I think it was last season, last Autumn, the office team have a plan for harvesting dulse. The dulse is one of the famous edible seaweeds and surprisingly it’s also one of the hardest to get because it’s slow to harvest, it’s quite a small species and it’s down below shore. So, we were trying to think of ways of boosting how much we could get back to the factory and it does grow on other plants. 

So, it’s epiphytic, which means it can just grow on the surface of other parts and we suggested that why don’t we pick those plants and take them back to the factory and then take off the seaweed that we actually want. It was the guys at the factory, the harvesters, they were the ones that pointed out if we do that it’s not sustainable harvesting because we’re taking that plant back and not allowing it to regrow. It was there that the office guys haven’t thought about, it needed the harvesters to realize that that was not a part of our message, that wasn’t what we should be doing. 

So, we have a Marine Science team that manages the harvest site, so we do biomass surveys and we harvest to quota. So, we can harvest up to 20% of the biomass of each species at each site in a year and we harvest under license. So, we have the main owner of the offshore in the UK is the Crown Estate, and so, we have a license with Crown Estates common for harvesting seaweed. As part of that, we are also monitoring environmental impact, and again, there wasn’t any playbook for how to do that and the team of marine biologists are looking at this and trying to work out [13:26 inaudible]

We’ve had surveys running since 2015 in Caithness where we’re monitoring not just the seaweed but the associated community of plants and animals with the seaweed. That’s been running as an annual survey, running in areas where we’re harvesting, where we’re not harvesting and one of the surveys is underway now up in Caithness so a timely reminder of that. And then, in terms of getting the message out to the customers in our value-add range, the seaweed is very much the star ingredient of our products and we’re also focusing on natural nutrition, so it’s what’s in the seaweed rather than artificially boosting it with vitamins and minerals because seaweed is such a great product and packed full of minerals especially, and try and let the seaweed speak for itself.

 

Will: Brilliant. So, you veered towards the fact that you think seaweed in the future was potentially quite a big part of energy as well, what do you think the barriers are for that? Is it knowledge, is it expertise in the area, or is it fundamentally understanding the financials behind it?

 

Peter: So much of it is to do with scale. We did some analysis early on in thinking about what to do, what are the different things you can do with seaweed, what is the opportunity? What we did was we balanced the value in the end product against the complexity of processing and the challenge with buying energy is that you have material at the product that isn’t necessarily that easy to produce but it also has to compete on price with fossil fuels. That means, again, this startup application, it means it is difficult to realize whereas there are other markets for seaweed that can help an industry scale. So, bioenergy and other bioplastics from seaweed and all these amazing things that you can do will come when cultivation is at a level that is so efficient and easy that it can be done on a scale that brings the cost of production right down. And that would mean it could compete with fossil fuels and more than compete with land crops.

 

Will: Would it be a case of having a sea crop, say in the middle of the Irish sea or the middle of the North Sea or something like that? Would that be what you [16:23 overlapping talk]

 

Peter: Yeah, and farming is a really important part of what we’re about as well, so we recognized early on that hand harvesting wild seaweed was the best way to get going and start learning about seaweeds and producing seaweed. A very sustainable option with the seaweed being cut in such a way to grow back and we also saw that cultivation is farming the seaweeds for the longer term. So, we started looking at farming quite early on and we have been doing trials and we’re close to putting in our first seaweed farm off the west coast of Scotland. And that would be our playground [17:15 inaudible] the key is getting it in the water and out of the water as efficiently as possible. So, the cycle for growing seaweed at sea is that you would deploy it in the autumn, so around now. And then, over the autumn and the winter there’s hardly any growth but when the light comes back in January, nutrients come back, it’s something incredibly fast so it could even be centimeters a day that it will grow. What will start from a macroscopic plant in November will be a 2-meter-long piece of kelp in Spring, so we’d be harvesting around April and that’s an incredibly important part of the business because it’s a scalable solution. It means we can produce lots of the most commercially attractive species and we can have more control over the raw material as well.

 

Will: Are there more fish? I mean, is there a knock-on effect? 

 

Peter: Yeah, it’s a refuge. Yes. So, its offering shelter in the sea and there is environmental impact with all, there’s nothing that anyone can do that has no environmental impact. But the environmental impact of seaweed in comparison to all other forms of agriculture because they’re plants, so they’re a carbon sink and taking nourishment out to water. We think the seaweed will grow better in more exposed conditions as well, so that would mean eventually seaweed can grow offshore and not be competing for that protected Coastal water space. 

 

Will: Ok, brilliant, cool. You’ve given me a massive insight into seaweed, thank you, really interesting. Listen, I actually set off recording straight off the back on the beginning of phone call. I can absolutely do it so that there’s no video if you want but I’ll send it to you with video, because it’s actually really easy because I just put it all together and then I extract the audio anyway for iTunes. But it’s works better for your social media as well as ours to have video, do you understand? No one watches it. 

 

Peter: Okay. 

 

Will: This is what our marketing person told us, we need to have video on it. I was like, seriously?

 

Peter: Well, when I watched one just to see what you’re about, I put the video on and watch about 30 seconds and then there’s something else we were listening in the background.

 

Will: You kind of proved my point, but you know about marketing, right? So, I’ll send it to you. 

 

Peter: I should have also said we kind of recognized earlier this year that innovation was what we’re about, so we had to innovate from day one. No one was really doing what we’re doing. We will have to come together and work out how to go about harvesting seaweed and processing seaweed and making seaweed into a great product. On Friday night we won at the food and drink awards, the Innovation prize

 

Will: Hey, cool. 

 

Peter: That was really good and also a surprise, we’re a young company so that’s a special prize that we got and its really good because all the hard work put in. Everyday there are challenges and there’re lots of debate we had of how to go about doing things and keep to the Integrity of the business and yeah, it’s just really good to have that recognition for all the work that we do. 

 

Will: Can I ask you what your wife does? Because we didn’t end up talking about her because we got to the story and go on.

 

Peter: Yeah. The job that she had when she moved up was in advising the council with recycling and then she went to work for a social Enterprise in recycling and reuse. Two children came along and so my eldest has just started school last year and my wife recognized that she wants to be a teacher. And so, she did the training last year and now she is a primary school teacher so she’s in her probationary year and its incredibly hard work. I thought this was hard work, but to be a teacher’s incredibly hard work. 

 

Will: I was wondering whether you’d say this is working with you. I didn’t know there’s a reason why I was asking.

 

Peter: No. People do ask that, yeah, but no. I’m glad she’s not because it would really put a strain on things. 

 

Will: I know exactly what you mean. Listen, because we’ve ended up just recording the podcast, do you mind if I just start the beginning? As in, welcome you in to do it and then I can cut it and put it to the front. 

 

Peter: No problem.

 

Will: Sorry, is that right?

 

Peter: Yeah, absolutely. 

 

Will: I thought we were going to end up turning off the video, but we just ended up talking. It just seemed like the right thing to do just to continue. 

 

Peter: No problem.

 

Will: So, hi Peter, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Welcome to green element podcast, I’m really looking forward to hearing more about what it is that you guys do and what you’re up to. 

 

Peter: Great. Thank you very much. So, we’re Shore Scottish Seaweed Company. Thank you for inviting me on today. So, my name is Peter Elbourne, I’m managing director of operations for Shore Scottish Seaweed Company, and we are actually the UK’s leading seaweed company. So, at the moment, we harvest organic seaweed from the North Coast of Scotland, and we process that into value-added products and the first of which we launched our Shore seaweed box. 

 

Will: Can you show your box? You showed it to me earlier. There’s nothing like [24:21 inaudible] exactly what it is, brilliant. 

 

 

Peter: Thank you. So, we have four flavours and seaweed is our star ingredient and they will be available in shops very soon. 

 

Will: Brilliant. Thank you so much for today.

 

Peter: No problem, thank you. 

 

Will: I’m really enjoying this podcast. It’s not something I thought we’d end up doing but able to talk to you and understand more about seaweed. I’ve spoken to beauticians, you just end up speaking to so many different people about different things, it’s great, it’s cool, thank you. 

 

Peter: I’ve never been on a podcast before, but I listen to them a lot, so that’s very good. 

 

Will: When I email you the follow-up, I can put in the date as well of when it’ll be. 

 

Peter: Okay. 

 

Will: I think it’s roughly the end of December.

 

Peter: Great.

 

Will: Alright.

 

Peter: Cheers, thank you very much.

 

Will: Cheers, take care, good luck. 

 

Peter: Bye. 

 

Will: Bye.

Important Links

http://www.shoreseaweed.com/

https://twitter.com/shoreseaweed

https://www.instagram.com/shoreseaweed

https://en-gb.facebook.com/shoreseaweed/

About Peter Elbourne

I’m Peter Elbourne, Managing Director of Supply & Operations at SHORE The Scottish Company. We aim to be the UK’s leading seaweed company. We hand harvest organic seaweed from the remote and rugged shores of northern Scotland. Sustainability is central to what we do. No-one else offers our range of organic seaweed at wholesale scale in the UK. To achieve volume sales, we have developed a range of seaweed-based products to sell into retail under our brand SHORE – the first of which is our Seaweed Puffs. Seaweed is the star ingredient, but our healthy snacking products also deliver on taste. In the coming years we want to expand our harvesting operations and introduce cultivation for key commercial species. We will also diversify beyond food into new markets for seaweed.

If you want to get in touch with us directly you can always contact us via phone/email or via our website here

 

 

 

 

 

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