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November 29, 2018

Buxton company lands $600K grant to bring seaweed to the bread aisle

Courtesy / VitaminSea LLC
Courtesy / VitaminSea LLC
VitaminSea LLC, a family-owned seaweed harvesting and processing company based in Buxton, received a Phase II grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Small Business Innovation Research program to further develop the larger-scale commercialization of its seaweed products.

Buxton-based VitaminSea will receive a $600,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to further develop SeaKelp+, a kelp-based additive for bread.

The award was announced by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine District 1, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, which oversees discretionary spending for the USDA. Pingree wrote a letter of support for VitaminSea's grant application.

VitaminSea received a $100,000 SBIR Phase I grant in 2017 to prove the feasibility of adding kelp to bread and find that the costs would be not be prohibitive to bakeries that sought to use it in their products. The Phase II grant will allow the company to develop a prototype and partner with bakeries to develop their own recipes, and conduct market testing.

"Adding seaweed to one's diet is proven to provide health benefits, yet it is not widely consumed outside of Asian cultures," the company said in its Phase II grant application. "Specifically, kelp contains a variety of minerals and vitamins, including naturally high levels of calcium, iodine, protein, antioxidants, potassium, iron, folic acid, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. By commercializing a kelp-based bread additive for B2B sales to bakeries, VitaminSea will bring these benefits to mainstream Western diets while naturally extending bread's shelf life."

If successful in creating a large, new market for kelp, the company said it will bring economic benefits to Maine's coastal communities hard hit by the collapse of other fisheries. "Increased seaweed aquaculture and sustainable wild harvesting will diversify the economy of these rural areas, benefiting Maine's small- to mid-size 'sea farms,'" the company said.

Pingree agreed.

"Some of the most exciting things about Maine aquaculture right now are consumers' growing awareness of seaweed's nutritional benefits and the innovative products local businesses are making with it," she said in the news release. " VitaminSea's efforts to develop a kelp-based bread additive has huge potential for growing not just their business, but the state's seaweed aquaculture as a whole," Pingree said. "I'm excited that all the work this business has put into proving the concept's potential has led to this significant federal investment to put their plan into motion."

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