With clear plant-based food ties and a rich amino acid and protein profile, seaweed seems to be a natural fit for health conscious consumers, particularly young moms shopping for their kids.
“It’s a different way of eating vegetables,” Annie Chun, founder of California-based gimME Health Foods, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Seaweed products like gimME Snacks have been popping up since the company was founded in 2012 especially in private label outlets like Trader Joe’s and Aldi, but according to Chun the trend hasn’t quite hit its stride yet.
“It’s been around, but it’s never developed to the point of mainstream, and it still has a ways to go,” Chun said.
gimME Snacks dominates the natural channel and it has been focusing heavily on building out its conventional retail presence gaining distribution in Target stores nationwide as well as Kroger listings including Harris Teeter, Mariano’s, and Ralph’s, among many others.
The company’s seaweed snacks are also sold on Amazon, a small but growing customer base for the brand.
This type of expansion would not have been possible without the brand’s USDA Organic certification, according to Chun, which she gained working directly with South Korean seaweed farmers to change their practices.
gimME Health Foods recently received a Whole Foods supplier award for its organic commitment to making a portfolio of seaweed products adding to the growing functional snack category.
Annie Chun (above), founder of gimME Health Foods (parent company of gimME Snacks) founded her first Asian foods business in 1992 called "Annie Chun's" where she starting developing seaweed-based product ideas. The business was purchased by CJ Corp for $6.8m in 2005.
Innovation and diversification
Most seaweed snack products on the market today are snack-sized crispy sheets packaged in neat rows roasted and sometimes flavored. While gimME Snacks does offer this product format it has realized the importance of tapping into the on-the-go eating trend to give its products extra appeal to US consumers.
According to Nielsen, 32% of US homes buy on-the-go snacks an average of 3.1 times per year. While families are clear stand-out buyers, younger generations and multicultural households also buy more on-the-go produce snacks than the average US household, Nielsen added – an audience that fits squarely into gimME’s target market.
“The majority of our customers are mothers,” Chun said. But the brand’s seaweed snacks appeal to a larger audience of anyone who has an “open mind”, she added.
Packaged in bags and re-sealable packs, the brand manufacturers “seaweed chips” made with brown rice that resemble tortilla chips and a “seaweed thins” product that layers seaweed with other ingredients like almonds, sesame seeds, and coconut.
Chun said that this type of format is nothing new in Asian cultures but has only started resonating with American consumers within the past few years.
“I look at Kind Bar, and in Japan and Korea we have sesame and nut sticks, it’s a very similar and very simple [concept] – you have nuts or seeds and you have some way of binding them together, usually honey, and that’s a ‘kind’ snack,” she said.
Honoring Asian culture
Chun added that the idea behind gimME Snacks started with wanting to reinterpret a favorite food from her childhood growing up in South Korea. However, while seaweed is a popular component of many Asian dishes, its consumption is much broader than that.
At multiple trade shows, Chun has noted a number of Irish and Scandinavian brands launching seaweed-based products due to its commercial availability in those regions.
While gimME Snacks wants to honor its Asian roots it also wants to be a distinctly American product as well, as is reflected in its flavors.
Its flavor offerings have been a deliberate and slowly expanding endeavor, according to Chun, that now includes snacks in sea salt, sesame teriyaki, sriracha, and wasabi varieties.
“I absolutely want to do more mainstream flavors, but I have to be super careful of how I flavor the seaweed because seaweed is one of those ingredients that already has a lot of flavor,” she said.
“We hope to next year announce a couple more mainstream flavors.”