Dominican entrepreneur John Robin was studying fisheries development in Canada over 25 years ago when he realised the potential value of sea moss.
Scientifically known as Chondrus Crispus, sea moss (also referred to as Irish sea moss or red algae) is a versatile ‘superfood’ which contains 83% of all essential nutrients and is high in antioxidants as well as vitamins A, D, E and K.
The health benefits of sea moss were well known in the Caribbean and other parts of the world for centuries but the commercialisation of seaweed in the region was almost non-existent.
“The information I discovered on seaweed was overwhelming,” John recalls. “There are 12 major seaweed corporations in Asia alone and the global industry keeps about four million people employed. But in the Caribbean, seaweed harvesting was small, and we were not doing much cultivation or processing.”
After returning to Dominica, John set about finding ways to bottle sea moss and extend its shelf life. He joined with a partner to establish his company, Benjo’s Seamoss, and then took over as the sole owner about two years later.
Benjo’s Seamoss is now the largest sea moss production company in the region. John employs 20 people at his plant in Roseau and his ‘meal in a bottle’ beverage is currently exported to around 20 Caribbean countries.
“We benchmark ourselves against Coca Cola,” John states. “They have a product that is available in 205 out of 207 countries. So, we are currently trying to get into other parts of the Caribbean like Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, as well as the US and Canada.
“We also want to move from eight to 10 flavours by August and incorporate the raw materials available in our environment like lemongrass and tamarind.”
John puts his continued success down to “the grace of God” and persistence. He is also thankful for the support he has received from the Caribbean Export Development Agency which he says has helped him develop his brand.
In 2019, he participated in the leading Caribbean tradeshow ‘Agroalimentaria’ and attended a CARIFORUM – EU Economic Partnership Agreement Workshop on Regional Business to Business Strategic Networking which concentrated on building strong trade capacity in the Caribbean.
John says: “I went to quite a few events through Caribbean Export and the OECS Export Development Unit which proved to be eye-opening and a catalyst for growing the business.
“The support from Caribbean Export has been critical but as such a crucial regional organisation I do think they can do more to help established manufacturers. The funding structure needs to change so it is not just focused on start-ups but on businesses that are contributing to their countries GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
John adds: “Sometimes it feels like companies who have stood the test of time are being ignored. If I got more support, we could do more market research and product development, and I could move some means of production to other territories such as St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago to minimise shipping costs.”
Meanwhile, John plans to focus on positioning Benjo’s Seamoss to take full advantage of the heightened interest in sea moss around the world.
According to the IMARC Group, the global seaweed market reached $7.5 billion (US) in 2022 and is expected to reach $14.3 billion (US) by 2028, which is a compound growth rate of 11.64% from 2023-2028.
John is also working on advancing the cultivation of sea moss within local communities in Dominica. He is involved in training and assisting individuals who want to grow and harvest seaweed which he might then be able to process.
John admits: “It’s not for everyone because you must withstand the rigours of the sea. But the prospects for increased cultivation are good.”
He adds: “Seaweed presents tremendous backward linkages for agriculture in Dominica and the Caribbean. It has around 2,500 different applications so we need to utilise the full potential of this product. Beverages is just one aspect.”