Larry Knowles is certainly not the first person to find a use for the bounty of sea vegetables to be found along the Mendocino coast. But Knowles and his company — Rising Tide Sea Vegetables — have developed a unique product niche: healthy treats for humans and other animals. Among their products, Rising Tide sells maple kelp crunch bars that people like to eat and feather boa seaweed that bears, fish, and otters like to flip, nibble or bat around for hours.
In 2008, Knowles and his business manager, Marla Greenway, began receiving consulting services from the Mendocino Small Business Development Center operated by West Company. SBDC consultant Michael Carroll worked with Rising Tide to identify weak and strong products, calculate healthier profit margins, and balance cash flow. The most striking thing Knowles and Greenway learned from this analysis was that one of their most popular products — their Maple Kelp Crunch bars — was being sold at a loss.
The bars were being made by a company on the east coast and then labeled and distributed by Rising Tide. Knowles resolved to find a way to manufacture the bars himself. First, he purchased the assets of a commercial business in Fort Bragg, including a large commercial baking oven. Then, he partnered with a professional baker to develop his own recipe for the product. After much research and experimentation, they were able to achieve the taste and quality they wanted while keeping costs down to profitable level. “Initially, we thought we might have to discontinue the organic energy bar line,” says Greenway. “This wasn’t a happy prospect. But now — as a result of our consulting with Michael – we’re very excited and optimistic about the future of our snack product line.”
As a further consequence of consulting with West/SBDC, Knowles was encouraged to develop an offshoot business: a commercial, shared-use community kitchen known affectionately as “Chubby’s.” According to Greenway, “The assistance and education we’ve received from Michael for this new project has been invaluable.” And, in their not-for-human-consumption line, represented by its Feather Boa product. Otherwise known as Egregia Menziesii, Feather Boa is a seaweed too tough for humans but much loved by bears, fish, and otters, among others. And, like other seaweeds, the Feather Boa is packed with nutrients. Rising Tide has marketed its seaweed to zoos for years as a natural, behavior-enhancing edible toy.
Susan Garrett, from the Lake Superior Zoo, noted that their polar bears, reef fish, and North American river otters all enjoy the Feather Boa. “The seaweed fascinated the polar bears” says Garrett. “Initially, they were not sure what to do with it but soon both bears jumped into the water and grabbed a piece. Bubba remained in the water the whole time and swallowed his down rather quickly. Berlin brought hers up onto a rock and took her time with it, quite obviously relishing the treat.”
Rising Tide Sea Vegetables can be reached at 964-5663 or www.loveseaweed.com.
Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!