How has a mom and pop business grown to compete with Annie Chun's, a multibillion-dollar food and entertainment conglomerate, for the No. 1 roasted seaweed snack in America? That's easy, says founder Jin Jun: "We're driven by passion." Jun's drive to make a truly healthy, delicious seaweed snack informs every brand decision. From the beginning she committed to Non-GMO Project Verification and never takes shortcuts or compromises ingredients to seize an opportunity.
"People were dying for us to make a wasabi flavor but we didn't want to add sugar like most brands do to temper the heat," she says. "It took months to figure it out but we finally got it right." The brand is also getting it right with shoppers—namely moms hunting for clean, kid-friendly snacks. Since launching in 2010 the brand has experience 300 percent sales growth, with no signs of slowing.
Why did you launch SeaSnax?
I come from a Traditional Chinese Medicine background. While in school I became pregnant and started to take an interest in nutrition. I began to see that food is really a source of medicine. When our daughter was three, she started really loving roasted seaweed snacks and eating them like candy. I looked at the ingredients and was horrified. That's when I decided that we could make something better. [Click here for ingredient-swapping tips for healthier products.]
Did you know anything about selling natural products?
We knew nothing about this industry. All we wanted to do was create something that my daughter enjoyed and that we enjoyed. We're actually the consumers. We started this business with no funding and very few resources.
We did not have brokers or distributors our first year in business. In hindsight, this was a blessing in disguise because we would have been told that we needed to discount heavily in order to get into stores. Instead, we contacted stores directly and developed relationships. The buyers were kind enough to not ask for free-fills or discounts because they knew we were a small family business just starting out. The independent retailers and co-ops are truly the heart of the natural industry and without that support we would not be where we are today.
How did you manage costs early on?
We cut where we knew we could. For example, at consumer and trade shows we did not spend money on elaborate displays. We used stacked cases of SeaSnax as our display for our booth. We not only sampled and introduced our product to people, we also produced sales (in order to cover costs and expenses). At every show, we give it our all. So, whether it's our passion and excitement for wanting to share our healthy snacks or our fun, friendly and lively booth, we always create a buzz and make an impact.
What advice do you wish someone had given you from the start?
Don't expect anyone else to do the work for you. When we finally did hire brokers, everything didn't stay in house. You can't depend on other people to grow your business to your expectations.
I see it clearly now that what I gave birth to was essentially another child. You have to constantly care for it, nurture it and love it. That's what will allow your business to grow. You can never take your hands off of it.