After launching a line seaweed-based broths last year, seaweed-focused food brand Ocean’s Halo is ready to conquer another center store category with the debut of organic, gluten-free, soy-inspired, but soy-free sauces. The line — which consists of an original “no-soy soy-free” sauce, low sodium sauce, teriyaki sauce, stir-fry sauce and korean barbeque sauce — will debut at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, Calif. It will then roll out to over 1,000 doors with two national retail partners in the spring.
Co-founder and CEO Robert Mock told NOSH that the company was inspired to start the new line after delving into the data around center store sales. Mock said that within the Asian set, he found soy sauce — and in particular low-sodium soy sauce — was the number one seller. Typical soy sauce has roughly 1,000 mg of sodium per serving. The Ocean’s Halo no soy soy-free sauce will have 580 mg per serving with its low-sodium version clocking in at 300 mg per serving.
“There’s a lot of people that just can’t enjoy soy sauce. And we thought it was [because of] just soy the allergen, but we learned that’s maybe half of them. The other half is just people who can’t take that much sodium,” Mock told NOSH. “What turned out to be a back story is a front story for us.”
Ocean’s Halo then researched how consumers were making soy sauce alternatives and found the most popular recipes used beef broth as a key ingredient — something the team realized could be replaced with the brand’s own kelp broth.
Soy sauce is one of the most common ingredients in other marinades, according to Mock. Because of this, he believes that the brand’s soy-free sauce has the potential to be an ingredient in other brands’ products. Ocean’s Halo already has experience as an ingredient supplier, selling seaweed to other companies.
To capitalize on the potential opportunity in the sauce set, Mock rounded out the new line with three cooking sauces. The korean barbeque sauce was selected simply because of its flavor while the other two were developed to meet retail partner needs — teriyaki and “stir-fry” are the top two sauces in the Asian set. At first, Mock said, the company was a bit surprised that the non-descript name “stir-fry” was a hit with consumers but realized it gives the shopper a clear understanding of how to use the product.
For Mock, these names are further evidence of the company’s strategy to focus on the mainstream shopper rather than a natural or Asian consumer.
“I’m from Dallas, Texas, so I don’t fit in perfectly [where I live now in California] and I don’t need fancy names,” Mock said. “We’re trying to go after people like me who were born in Texas and they just want to know what they’re getting and have it look kind of cool when they get it. I think it works. Whether it works great in our [urban, natural] stores, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it works best in Kansas City? We’re in 4,000 Walmarts and it’s working. And there are Walmarts everywhere.”
The strategy is paying off Mock said. Its line is in roughly 10,000 retailers including Albertson-Safeway, Walmart, Whole Foods, Earthfare, CVS, 365 by Whole Foods Market, Costco and Sprouts, and is sold in the U.S., New Zealand, Asia and Europe. Originally launched as a snack brand with their seaweed sheets, the company quickly expanded to other center store categories.
While conventional retail is less crowded with seaweed-based snacks then natural retailers, Ocean Halo’s mission is to find ways to introduce consumers to seaweed in new categories. Staying true to that mission across numerous category expansions has helped the company see success, even after several missteps, Mock said.
“When we first started our company, what everyone told us was ‘hit that natural niche because that’s where you belong.’ It’s been spotty but I think we’ve turned our thought around and said ‘we’re going after mainstream,’” Mock said. “I think our opportunity has always been to bring great Asian recipes and flavors to mainstream consumers who might not otherwise discover it”
2018 looks to be a busy year for the brand. With a focus on growing distribution as well as launching other innovative new products,Ocean’s Halo will launch an exclusive snack item in the first half of 2018 and more center store products later this year. All the coming lines already have committed retail partners, according to the company.
“I think innovation has been setting us apart lately. All the other seaweed snack brands are still just doing snacks,” Mock said. “Maybe they are coming up with a new flavor, but they are definitely not going outside of the category. So it’s risky but it’s also really cool.”