SAN FRANCISCO — 12 Tides, a San Francisco startup, produces organic seaweed puffed snacks in flavors such as sea salt, chili and everything seasoning. The company sources sustainably harvested North American kelp, which is nutrient dense and supports ocean restoration, according to the company.
Before launching the company, founder Patrick Schnettler worked in the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries and witnessed the negative impacts of overfishing, pollution and coastline destruction.
“Kelp can grow up to 18 inches in a day, and while it’s growing very quickly, it also absorbs an enormous amount of carbon from the ocean,” he said. “It absorbs carbon 10 times more efficiently than terrestrial crops on a per-acre basis, and that excess carbon in the ocean is what causes acidification, which has a number of negative ramifications for various oceanic ecosystems.
“It’s also a zero-input crop. No fertilizers, no fresh water, no arable land … it’s pretty resource efficient.”
Roasted seaweed snacks, the tissue-thin, sea salty strips, created a small splash in the snacking category as several brands entered the US market in recent years.
“That is a different species of seaweed that is not grown in North America,” Mr. Schnettler said. “It’s called nori. It’s a red seaweed and has a fishier taste to it, and it almost entirely comes from Southeast Asia, China, Korea...
“Most of these products have a little bit more of an Asian focus in the flavor profile and branding. They have definitely been very successful in their own niche, but we wanted to build a product for a more mainstream audience here in the US. We geared the flavor profile and the texture especially and everything else toward a mainstream audience and are positioning ourselves as a better-for-you alternative to traditional salty snacks like potato chips.”
Mr. Schnettler began selling 12 Tides snacks at area farmers’ markets last year, collecting feedback and refining flavors and branding. The company partnered with San Mateo startup incubator KitchenTown to develop and manufacture the product and appeared among a collection of emerging brands in the Incubator Village at the Winter Fancy Food Show in January.
“We landed on the current product format that we had at Fancy Food that was super hot off the press … and we built up a little manufacturing capacity and then the global pandemic hit,” Mr. Schnettler said. “That maybe delayed us by a couple weeks. We ended up turning on the website in April, and that was sort of our soft launch. And then we entered retail in June. We’ll have new branding and a new website dropping in October, which will be a bigger launch for the brand.”
In the meantime, the company continues to sell at Bay Area farmers’ markets, which have remained popular during the pandemic and serve as an increasingly rare opportunity to directly engage with consumers while grocery store sampling is paused.
“A lot of people are surprised by the texture and flavor profile,” Mr. Schnettler said. “It’s a lot different than maybe what people would expect as a seaweed snack. Generating that trial and providing those education points is important for us, and we continue to do that.”
12 Tides also sells at select retail stores that align with the brand’s mission and values, Mr. Schnettler said.
“I think there are so many different really interesting and new tasty applications for the kelp product that we’re working with now, and we plan to continue to find new and innovative ways to put that into different product lines,” he said.