The Rise Of Seaweed: The Second Coming of Annie Chun

Northern California-based food entrepreneur, Annie Chun, is knee-deep in the launch of a new venture that, if successful, will be proof positive that the country’s palate for snacks may be changing.

Chun and business partner Steve Broad (also her husband) built a brand that was generating about $15 million in annual sales before she sold it off to South Korea-based CJ Foods in 2009, North Bay Business Journal reported. Chun’s company offered an assortment of Asian food products, including do-it-yourself chow mein , noodle soups, sauces, potstickers and seaweed snacks.

Her new venture, called gimMe Health Foods (pronounced Jee-me), is focused squarely on the seaweed market. Chun had to a coax a Korean seaweed supplier to prepare its seaweed supply by a process approved as organic by USDA .

The organic designation will be a differentiator for Chun’s gimMe, and she’s going to need as many of those as she can get because it’s definitely not lonely in the U.S. seaweed snack market. Jayone Foods is moving seaweed snacks under its Seas Gift brand, SeaSnax is shipping a line of colorful products, Trader Joe’s has a spicy and non-spicy offering in the category, Chun will also see serious competition from the company whose products bear her name and likeness. According to a report, her former company has doubled sales in the past three years.

So what is Chun and Co. doing differently? Well, gimMe Health Foods is zeroing in on the organic and gluten-free angle, possibly hoping to ride the wellness and health food wave into people’s cupboards.  

Though Chun’s products generally follow the same market tendencies of her competitors – small squares of seaweed in a package, a few flavors – some offerings are unique. Her old company has made popular such tastes as pepper and herb, brown sugar and sesame. But Chun’s new product offers flavors like honey Dijon and – are you ready for this? – cheddar cheese. Meanwhile, these flavors come in a crumbled form so they can be used as a topping.

Who’s up for something with dried seaweed and cheese poured on it? I know I am (I’ll try anything once).

I hesitate to bet against Chun and Broad in their latest endeavor. They’ve built one multi-million dollar food business, who’s to say they can’t do it again? gimMe’s product line is nowhere near as varied as the couple’s prior company so there’s less to concentrate on. But lack of product diversity could hurt if U.S. consumers’ taste for dried seaweed doesn’t allow for more than a small handful of players in the space, or a large handful with limited sales, gimMe could have a hard time finding traction to grow.

Another potential double-edged sword is that gimMe seems to be a more involved family business. Chun and Broad’s daughter, Mia, thought up the product concept and is now handling communications for the fledgling company; their son David works with the company part time in some form of consulting capacity. Dog lovers reading this piece might be interest to know that the family dog, Sugar, is in charge of security at gimMe’s HQ, though it’s unclear how much influence the canine has over company direction or whether it has any equity at all.

-Karsten Strauss, Forbes Staff

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