Sea Monster is a sorghum and seaweed puff snack named for the individual characters featured on the front of each bag, co-founders John Lee and Jiae Kim told FoodNavigator-USA. The line of snacks includes Sour Cream & Onion, Cheese Pizza, Sweet Chili, and Spicy Korean BBQ flavors, and starting in June, the snack will be available at Sprouts nationwide.
The idea of the brand came from Lee and Kim's experience eating seaweed growing up, their knowledge about the environmental benefits of the plant, and their realization that their kids didn’t have healthy snacks that they could resonate with, they shared.
"We tried to offer them all the better for you brands from Whole Foods ... and they could just smell that stuff a mile away," Lee said. "What if we produced a product that was not just better for them but ... wrapped in a brand that feels contemporary."
Creating an approachable seaweed puff for adults, children
While using the familiar form factor of the puff, Sea Monsters set out to create a brand that was approachable not only to kids but to health-conscious consumers, Kim said.
“We wanted to do something that felt approachable, accessible, and familiar, and I think ... everyone, whether you're in the coast or in the Midwest, understands what a puff is.”
One way Sea Monsters achieves that approachability is by providing some of “everybody’s favorites” like sour cream and cheese pizza while also “pushing the food curiosity forward” with flavors like Spicy Korean BBQ, Kim explained.
Another part of what makes the brand approachable is the individual sea monsters displayed on the front of the bag, Kim said. These include Stan Chin, the sea urchin on the Sour Cream & Onion; Fin, the flying fish on Cheese Pizza; Kiki, the yellow boxfish on Sweet Chili; and Brains, the brain coral for Spicy Korean BBQ.
“It could be good-for-you ... but if kids aren't picking it up because they're like, ‘Yuck, I don't wanna eat that,’ even before they try it, then we've missed the mark,” Kim said. “In the front, … you get the character, but on the back, moms and dads and people who are really conscious of what they put in their bodies, they start to understand ‘Well, what are these ingredients and why do I care?’”
Supporting Sprouts, building a community
Though the brand has launched in 2022, Sea Monsters has been in development for several years, as they worked to perfect the taste and seasoning of the snack, Lee explained. Last year, Sea Monsters was selected for food distributors KeHe’s Elevate program, which helps small brands get to market, he said.
Sea Monsters's focus for the year will be on supporting its Sprouts' business and other smaller natural retailers and trying to build out the brand sustainability, finding opportunities to expand the portfolio when it makes sense, Lee said. However, looking further into the future, “a place like Whole Foods would be fantastic,” Lee admitted.
“Once we develop that sort of groundswell of support from those kinds of retailers will definitely be going into the bigger channels. We've had tremendous interest at Expo West from all kinds of partners, from all different kinds of retailers, that want to shop us," Lee said. "But I think we really have to sort of be strategic about who we go with and how we set up ... build our community before we get to the mass market.”