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Windsor company makes candy bars from seaweed

Courtney Smith, left, and Cole Meeker, owners of Sea of Change Trading Company, show their new seaweed chocolate bars at their office in Windsor, California on Wednesday, October 21, 2015. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

ROBERT DIGITALE, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Cole Meeker spends time at the ocean, he often gets inspired about food.

Meeker and business partner Courtney Smith make foods from sea veggies, more commonly known as seaweed. Their Windsor company, The Great and Wonderful Sea of Change Trading Co., will release a new snack product this fall: a premium chocolate bar made with “deeply nourishing and mineral-rich” seaweed.

Meeker said he was shocked several years ago on an ocean field trip when he asked an instructor which vegetation in the nearby waters was edible. The answer: Everything.

“What?” Meeker recalled thinking. “Why aren’t we eating it?”

Three years ago, Meeker and Smith founded Sea of Change. Their company makes snack foods with different types of seaweeds.

Their premier product is “Sea Bakin’,” which is made with sun-dried nori leaves, a seaweed used to make a paperlike wrap for sushi. The snack product is sold in Whole Foods Market and various natural food stores in the Bay Area, plus a smattering of other markets around the United States.

Along with Meeker and Smith, Sea of Change has eight part-time workers. The company benefits from ideas and recipe discoveries by Meeker’s wife, Anastasia Emmons, whom Smith calls Sea of Change’s “chief inspiration officer.”

The workers now make most of the products by hand at a food production facility in a Windsor business park, but the owners are hoping soon to attract more investors who would provide the capital needed to mechanize and greatly expand output.

“Manual production is not going to sustain us much longer,” Smith said.

It was also at the ocean that Meeker got the idea for the company’s new product: the Seaweed Chocolate Bar.

“It came when I was harvesting seaweed,” he recalled, an enterprise he does with a crew between May and August. That day, Meeker was munching on a chocolate bar when he got the idea to combine cocoa with sea veggies.

To finance production for the chocolate bar, Sea of Change started its own crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo. The food company reached its initial goal of $14,000 within five days and now is seeking to raise a total of $24,000. As of Thursday afternoon, the total stood at more than $15,800.

The fundraiser has an added benefit in helping spread the word about the new product, the two said.

“It’s a marketing campaign combined with a funding campaign,” Meeker said.

Sea of Change plans to have its chocolate bars on market shelves next month. The dark chocolate bars will be available in three flavors, each with its own type of seaweed: nori, dulse and wakame. The retail price will be $6.99, Smith said.

Meeker said he is unaware of any other chocolate seaweed bar made in the United States. An English company does advertise a milk chocolate bar with dulse.

The chocolate bar offers “the best of both worlds — land and sea,” Meeker said. The snack item and other food products that Sea of Change intends to manufacture in the future represent a new approach “to use the ocean in a sustainable way,” he said.

Even so, he acknowledged that he sometimes encounters reluctance among consumers to try a free snack sample. Such a reaction usually comes from older shoppers.

“Kids will jump right on it,” he said.

The owners expect the chocolate bars will prove popular and the company will need to acquire both capital and machinery in order to satisfy demand.

“We’re really at a major growth point where we need to invest in the equipment,” Meeker said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.