How a Health-Conscious Mom Convinced Millions to Snack on Seaweed
This company was included in our Entrepreneur360™ Performance Index coverage.
For Jin Jun, roasted seaweed used to be just a snack she’d buy her daughter. Today, her take on the Korean treat is sold in more than 6,000 stores from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.
Jun, 44, founded SeaSnax in 2010 after realizing that many of the flat, roasted seaweed snacks on the market were filled with sodium and MSG. At the time, her 3-year-old was eating them like candy.
"I wanted to create something that I felt good about feeding her every day," the Los Angeles resident says. "It was born out of love for her."
She convinced a supplier to produce dried seaweed made with olive oil and a dash of salt. While the supplier doubted people would want to purchase such a minimalistic product, within a month of launching, SeaSnax had -- to everyone's surprise -- found a place on Whole Foods’ shelves.
"I never intended to have this business grow on such a large scale. We had very humble beginnings," says Jun, who runs the business with her husband. "I thought I was going to just have to peddle this on the streets, but we couldn't get into any farmers' markets."
Instead, she went door-to-door at local stores known for stocking healthy and organic foods. The approach worked. Within the first year, 600 stores started stocking the product as she hustled to organize demos and sampling events, she says.
In her eyes, the snack's instant success was a matter of creating the right product at a moment when the market was ready for Asian snacks that fit customers' gluten-free, clean diet demands.
"It's all about timing," she says. "Even if you have a wonderful product, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it's the right time for it."
After five years in business, SeaSnax is now available in 6,000 stores, in countries including Canada, Germany and England. Its rapid expansion has also landed SeaSnax a spot on the Entrepreneur360™ Performance Index, a collection of the best entrepreneurial companies in America.
Friends send Jun photos snapped of the snacks everywhere from Hollywood sets to specialty food markets in Hong Kong. The original, lightly-flavored SeaSnax Sheets remains the most popular offering, but inventory has significantly expanded with options such as Chomperz: hearty seaweed curls that the company debuted last Super Bowl Sunday. A wider array of flavors, such as barbecue and jalapeno, help the snack appeal to Western customers still getting used to the idea of seaweed as go-to grub.
While still a family business, Jun and her husband no longer singlehandedly run the company, which now has five employees. Still, Jun continues to take special interest in customer service, spending hours talking to customers -- something she says has been key to getting the company to where it is today.
"It was a combination of sincerity and naivety. We were able to build a very loyal customer following… because I hear time and time again that people can trust us," she says. "My daughter sets the bar. If I wouldn't feed it to my daughter, I wouldn't feed it to a customer."