Food innovators making waves with Sea of Vitality

Ray Ryan reports on the rise of Sea of Vitality, a Dungarvan seaweed food company run by husband and wife team, Tom and Ria Jones

Ria and Tom Jones of Sea of Vitality

SUSTAINABLY grown seaweed is one of the innovative products selected to join this year’s FoodService Academy.

Sea of Vitality, a Dungarvan, Co Waterford-based company run by a husband and wife team, Tom and Ria Jones, produces a range of award-winning, value-added seaweed-based food products.

Tom, who is from Newbridge in Co Kildare, spent most of his career as a member of the Defence Forces, who also served on United Nations peacekeeping duties, while Ria is a native of Clonmel.

She worked in Dublin with AIB. Her career was interspaced with volunteering with Goal in Rwanda in 1995 and Romania in 2001.

In 2007, Tom and Ria left their careers and moved to Dungarvan. What happened next is outlined in their company’s website.

“Long walks on beautiful beaches and through magical forests in the Comeragh Mountains helped to ground us back to nature and inspired us to be more responsible and proactive about our health and wellbeing.

“At Waterford Festival of Food in 2012 we attended a seaweed workshop run by the Irish Wildlife Trust. We had heard a little about seaweed and had friends in the west of Ireland who used seaweed so we were very intrigued at the prospect of learning more about it. The workshop taught us how to identify, harvest and prepare seaweed to cook it.

“Armed with this new knowledge, scissors and bag at the ready we donned our wellies and started foraging.

“We began to experiment with different seaweeds and what we could do with them. The goal of these efforts was to find a way to use seaweed in ordinary recipes of benefit to everyone, not just the few. In other words, have seaweed as an ingredient suitable for all recipes rather than a recipe only suitable for seaweed.

“Eventually we found that drying and grinding it to a powder, not a new concept, worked very well.”

Tom and Ria found that this allowed the seaweed to incorporate completely into a recipe’s ingredients. The natural characteristics of the seaweed enriched the flavour of the dishes but were not overpowering.

Sea of Vitality is one of 11 participants in this year’s FoodService Academy, run by Bord Bia and Musgrave MarketPlace. It aims to help participants to increase sales within the foodservice, or out of home, food market. The initiative offers participants to develop within Musgrave MarketPlace’s foodservice business, supplying over 6,000 customers each week ranging from hotels and restaurants to pubs and nursing homes.

Launching this year’s programme, Maureen Gahan, Bord Bia’s food service specialist, said foodservice in Ireland offers major opportunities for suppliers providing innovative products to meet changing consumer needs.

“We’re delighted to roll out the second year of our FoodService Academy’ initiative, supporting our belief that food businesses should increasingly look to the food service sector as a viable route to market,” she said. “Now worth €7.5bn and forecast to increase to over €9bn by 2020, this route to market is delivering real growth and value for Irish food and drink companies.”

Sheena Forde, Musgrave MarketPlace trading director, said 2017’s programme follows from the success of FoodService Academy last year and that of the SuperValu Food Academy.

“We are now looking forward to the second year of our programme to support Irish foodservice producers through Musgrave MarketPlace,” she said. “A number of the participating companies are Food Academy graduates so we are proud to be in a position to help grow their businesses by introducing their products to our foodservice customer base.

“As the largest, fastest growing wholesaler in Ireland, we are ideally placed to understand the needs of the foodservice market and, as an Irish family business, we like working with small Irish companies — many of which are family-owned — to give them a head start in the market.”

Ms Forde said the FoodService Academy programme offers a combination of commercial and marketing expertise and will provide invaluable customer insight for the companies involved.

“We would like to acknowledge the excellent support of Bord Bia throughout the development of this programme,” she said. “Their shared passion for supporting Irish food business has been evident throughout.”

Participants for the 2017 programme were confirmed following a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event that took place earlier this year at Musgrave MarketPlace’s recently upgraded 75,000sq ft Ballymun store in Dublin.

Companies had the opportunity to meet and present their products to Musgrave MarketPlace trading managers, category managers and Leinster-based sales representatives.

The four-month FoodService Academy will comprise workshops and mentoring to help the companies better understand supplier set-up, food safety requirements, and distribution, sales and marketing.

In addition to Sea of Vitality, 10 other companies were selected to participate in the 2017 programme:

They include Clarafields, a caramel sauce manufacturer in Co Offaly, and the Fresh Soup Company, a Co Meath-based manufacturer of soups and sauces.

Also chosen were MSC Ventures, which produces fresh pestos, pastas and pizza doughs, in Glanmire, Co Cork; Mungo Murphy’s, harvesters of seaweed from Connemara; Natasha’s Living Food, Dublin, suppliers of a vegan and raw food snack range; Co Kildare-based Nutmost, producers of a range of activated nut-based snack products; Popsy Daisy, a Dublin producer of gourmet caramel popcorn is also a participant.

Also chosen were Cork’s Rebel Chilli, which has a range of gluten-free, fresh chilli sauces, Rosie&Jim, whose Dublin plant produces gluten-free whole chicken fillets in breaded coatings, and Wicklow Rapeseed Oils.

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