LISTED as the number one food trend for 2017 with 10,000 different variations and an aid to tackle obesity and diabetes…say hello to seaweed.

Dr Craig Rose, managing director of Seaweed & Co., has been a seaweed evangelist since creating the business in 2015, and he’s determined that everyone understands the benefits.

With ERDF funding, administered by the Department for International Trade, Craig is spreading the word on seaweed far beyond the company’s North Shields base, as he prepares to break into the South Korean market.

The DIT support will fund a crucial trip to the East, allowing Seaweed & Co. to carry out essential market research, provide an opportunity to meet distributors and explore new business. The firm is adding South Korea to a list of distributors that includes Israel, Europe and the US.

“Seaweed is becoming more mainstream,” Craig explained. “People aren’t seeing it as this green smelly stuff anymore. This shift in people’s perceptions provided me with the perfect opportunity to start the business.”

The biggest drive for Craig was seaweed’s sustainability. It doesn’t require land, fresh water or fertilisers – the three main things that make land-based farming unsustainable.

A marine biologist, Craig researched the benefits of seaweed for several years and he set up the company with high-quality in mind, investing in both production and education.

Before that, he owned a marine environmental consultancy, which he sold after growing the business from its Newcastle base, to offices in London, Manchester and Singapore.

One of his key projects was managing a large commercial R&D project on seaweed for biofuels and it was during this project that he recognised its vast potential.

Now with a core team of three, Seaweed & Co. supply to big names such as, Sainsbury’s, Batchelor’s and The Food Doctor, which is stocked at Tesco and Ocado, and Craig aims to educate people about seaweed and demonstrate how to incorporate it into everyday lives.

Craig said: “Seaweed is no longer something to be hidden away on shelves in niche health shops, but something everybody can and should access on their supermarket shelves.

“The benefits of seaweed are endless – things you would never think of like it being an effective way to reduce salt in food as well as it containing key nutrients like iodine.”

Seaweed & Co. works closely with Newcastle University, currently alongside the medical school, looking at how seaweed can help address obesity and diabetes.

While the company’s suppliers are UK based, its distribution is global and the company is working hard to understand individual markets. Craig has developed a naturally smoked seaweed ingredient which is proving popular in the EU, and for the Asian market, where seaweed is a staple.

Visiting South Korean will allow him to research products for that specific market.

With the help of ERDF support, Craig will also showcase the product at the Vitafoods Tradeshow in Geneva, in May, offering a link to distributors and employers from around the world.

Craig said: “ERDF support has been invaluable for us and it has gone way beyond financial. It has not just enabled us to fund international trips but has also given us the network and knowledge we needed to succeed on a global scale.

“Going overseas and understanding trade agreements can be daunting for a small company, but the Department for International Trade provides vital guidance and advice. We have received constant support from our International Trade Advisor Ron Ingram and I feel like they really care about helping our business.”

The future is looking bright for Seaweed & Co. It is exploring opportunities in the food and drink and health sectors and is hoping to increase sales dramatically in the next 12 months.

The team is taking part in the Department for International Trade’s introduction to export programme and is conducting an international review of the company’s website and marketing materials.

North East England Chamber of Commerce international trade director, Julie Underwood, said: “Seaweed & Co. is a company that is going from strength to strength. We are pleased to be able to support them in taking their unique product further afield.

“It is brilliant for us to be able to help North-East businesses go global, developing overseas links and gaining distributors and customers.”