By Kristy Dorsey

Specialist food producer Mara Seaweed is hoping later this year to revive major fundraising and expansion plans that have been put on hold as Covid-19 has shut down large sections of the economy.

Co-founded in 2013 by Fiona Houston and Xa Milne, the Edinburgh company was closing in on a multi-million pound investment deal before the pandemic took hold. This would have been used to extend both the supply and distribution chain for seaweed, and was to be accompanied by the launch of new plant-based food products.

Instead, Mara has been forced to furlough its seven production staff as sales to the food service sector have been wiped out by the closure of restaurants and other outlets in a bid to control the spread of the virus.

The company is currently best-known for its seaweed seasoning products such as Furikake and Dulse flakes, which contain high levels of a broad range of minerals known to have various health benefits. The raw product is harvested under a Crown Estate licence in Scotland and processed at Mara’s facility at Granton in Edinburgh.

The firm continues to trade through outlets such as Ocado, Amazon and Morrisons, as well as 650 Tesco stores throughout the UK.

Mara was one of just six UK food and drink brands – and the only one from Scotland – to be included in Tesco’s 2019 “Incubator Programme”. Its healthy salts were introduced to the supermarket chain’s shelves in November of last year, taking Mara’s revenues to £500,000 in the latest financial year.

Ms Houston said the pandemic would obviously have a major impact on sales in the current year, and had led to delays in securing new customers “that were about to sign on the dotted line”. Potential strategic investors have also put discussions on pause.

Despite the immediate difficulties, she remains positive about the prospects for the seaweed market over the longer haul.

“It is incredibly nutritious, tasty and sustainable – it just ticks every box for what consumers wanted before the pandemic,” she said.

“The blue economy will be huge in the medium to long-term, so for us, we know we are in the right space for the long run. But for right now, like everybody else, we are just trying to stay positive through the short-term.”

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