Inside Track: Evan Talty, Wild Irish Seaweeds
Clare company now sells seaweed to nutraceutical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries
Evan Talty: “Our capacity to produce is 10 times greater than it was two years ago. We have totally repositioned ourselves in the market”
Starting off as a producer of animal feed and beauty products with seaweed as a core ingredient, the past two years have seen Wild Irish Seaweeds evolve to become a major supplier of seaweed to the nutraceutical, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, with big name clients including SuperValu, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl and the Body Shop as well other manufacturing companies.
Managing director Evan Talty has big plans for the future having just completed a deal with Lush cosmetics to provide all its manufacturing sites worldwide with seaweed raw ingredient.
What sets your business apart from the competition?
All our seaweeds are hand-harvested, all the water sources from which we harvest are quality tested, and all our finished products are nutritionally and heavy metal tested so our customers receive a full traceability report as well as a testing kit for our products. Our products are also organic certified. Market competition is mostly farmed seaweed from various other countries which have none of these characteristics.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Our investor from Dragon’s Den Alison Cowzer said to us “to figure out what you are good at and become a global leader at it”. We tried to do retail, wholesale, animal feed, cosmetics etc, but when we figured out what we are really good at, which is producing a high quality raw ingredient for high quality brands, that’s when we started to excel.
We have invested nearly €300,000 in the past two years to upscale our factory and get our facility to a level that we can provide for our customers.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Trying to please everyone and trying to sell to everybody. The term “the busy fool” would have applied to us. When we figured out that we were selling to customers who weren’t cost effective for us, we cut a lot of them out and began to focus on our key customers. For four years we treated each customer the same until we figured out who the profitable ones were.
And your major success to date?
Three years ago, if you’d asked me, I would have said we were on track to be the biggest producer of seaweed in Ireland and we’d have a market in Ireland. Now I see Ireland as a stepping stone, but 70 to 80 per cent of our sales will be outside Ireland in the next five years. We have a major focus on North America and Asia.
The pivot we made from being a retail-focused company to a wholesale manufacturing company has been the successful change we have made in the past few years. Our capacity to produce is 10 times greater than it was two years ago. We have totally repositioned ourselves in the market.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
I admire Brian Crowley, chief executive of TTM Healthcare. My goal is to become a market leader in Europe sourcing my workforce locally and upskilling our own staff. As a Clare-based multinational company, I admire Brian for keeping his HQ in west Clare.
I aspire to make west Clare the home of seaweed in Ireland, and want to keep our offices here and upskill our community here as opposed to upping sticks to Dublin or some other centre of business. TTM has created a market-leading product from Clare, which is admirable. He’s a good mentor, and his business is something for us to look up to and aspire to.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
We started our business in the recession but we have found that once we have a solid business plan and a solid foundation the banks have been very open to scaling their products to suit our needs.
What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
I think it is very important for the Government to invest in rural areas in terms of broadband, transport systems and so on to attract employees to these regions. It is vital to invest in local economies outside the likes of Dublin. They should be investing in Galway, Shannon and Limerick to help spread business nationally, rather than having everything focused on Dublin.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Trying to build the business without having to tie ourselves into a lot of debt. This can be a time-consuming process, and a lot of work and stress. Cash flow is a big problem in our business too because if we are buying in stock we have to do that within a short period of time [each year].
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
We are probably two years into a five-year plan, and we have worked on our infrastructure for the past two years – which is there now. We would like to be the market leader in edible seaweed production in Europe by 2022. We are fully sustainable harvesters, we use crop rotation systems... so we are limited in terms of how much we can produce, but our growth strategy includes creating sub-factories in coastal communities around Ireland.
What’s your business worth, and would you sell it?
At present the business is worth around €2 million. It is not the type of business that you could just build up and flip – all our harvesting and our factory is on our family land close to our family home, and it’s a long-term legacy business that we hope to grow.