Food beyond just food. Using food as social inclusion with Seatrients
On April 12th we had another Startup Coffee Meetup at Goto 10 Malmö. The event again featured a special guest. This time we were able to hear from Seatrients CEO Amankwa Baptiste. A brief introduction about Seatrients: it is a startup in the food business, specifically in the smoothie industry. But not just any smoothies. They are smoothies made using seaweed! Exactly that, you didn't read it wrong! Seaweed! Who would have thought that through seaweed it would be possible to make delicious smoothies?! The truth is that it is quite possible, not to mention the sustainable aspect that comes with it, as we will see more below!
Where does your passion for sustainability come from?
"I found my passion in my studies while I was doing my bachelor's in the early 2000s. Back then, sustainability wasn't a big topic of discussion, but I happened to get into a space where I wasn't really sure what I wanted in my university studies. That led me to Philosophy! And it was really great because the head of that department was really involved in environmental activism and sustainability. So, she made a requirement every year that we, as a class, had to go on a retreat in the mountains of Tennessee (USA) and learn about sustainable concepts, sustainable construction, renewable energy, just the interdependence of society in the world and just understanding that our purpose here is bigger than just the individual. And we had to do that to pass our course. I felt like it was so special that she created that space for students because I would never actually become inspired to dive deeper into what sustainability means, how it can be applied in the real world and that is what made me continue learning more and more about that and that is what brought me to Malmö. I came here to do my master's in leadership and sustainability to understand from an organizational perspective what we can really be doing to change our habits and our ways of using things, having a more interdependent type of approach to business. So, my studies led me here.”
And your studies led you to creating Seatrients with your co-founder. So, where did the idea of using sea moss come from and why in a smoothie?
"My co-founder and I are both of Caribbean heritage. She is from St.Lucia and my family is from Trindad and Tobago and sea moss is a part of the island culture. A big part of our culture is working with what we got (really creative and innovative people). We have been farming and eating sea moss for many generations, which I thought was super interesting when I came into this context because Sweden is quite surrounded by water, but there isn't the same type of culture or relationship with the water. And I met my co-founder during my studies here and she had already finished her degree at Lund, so I would ask her where to find certain things I'd be missing from the Caribbean. In this context, we would always talk about things we miss or that we felt it was missing. This helped us to get into creating this product. And the reason for the smoothie is because that is how we do it in the Caribbean islands. We turn seaweed into drinks and beverages and we also use it in our skin. It is just something we are really versatile with, but the most common way you would see is as a beverage. I don't think anyone in this context has ever really engaged with seaweed in this type of way. So, we thought it would be an interesting way to make seaweed more approachable and also share our culture/background.”
Starting a business certainly is not that easy I can imagine...What are your thoughts about it?
"I thought I was going to get into corporate, getting this master's degree and going to some big corporation, do CSR for them, change the world, but what I realized that is not really what I wanted and I knew there would be a point I would be demotivated in that type of space because those cultures are really hard to infiltrate and influence. I became more interested in how to create new examples for them to follow and see things that work, see the alternatives. I feel like that is more influential and you see a lot of new companies coming up with new business models, with new ways of approaching business that I think in the long-run we will really affect large companies. So, yes, I thought it was just a more meaningful way of applying the things I have learned.”
Wow, I think it is beautiful that you followed your heart, instead of simply going with the bank balance all the time!
"No regrets! I mean, one thing that motivated me to really just focus on this and give it a chance is because when everybody was affected by the pandemic, when life shut down, when everyone realized that even the people at the top of the top don't have the answers, it just made me feel like why not? Why can't I just try something for once? There is no one right way of doing things and this is very clear in this space and time. So, I sat with my co-founder and just said let's go for it! If it works, it works! If it doesn't, no regrets! That is just the space we are in right now. It is not easy working full-time on something that is not at a super profitable level yet, but I wake up every day and I do exactly what I want to do, the things that make me happy and that is worth it to me.”
How do you see the sustainability aspect as you grow your business when you are using the sea moss?
“I love that you bring that up because farming sea moss is something that they've always done for many, many years and now that seaweed is becoming such a hot commodity, there is that potential that it can be overexploited or abused in a way and we want to be really intentional about the way we source our seaweed, about the type of network that we build throughout our supply chain. So, we actually have a really close relationship with the farmers, we are starting only with farming associations that have been fully trained and understand how to sustainably farm and harvest the seaweed. Our next step is to replicate this certification process so that we can organize and unionized farmers in developing island nations to be able to produce at the same standards, so that they have the same access to the market. As things become more hot and regulated, people in marginalized areas become excluded from the market because they don't have the infrastructure, technology or resources to meet those standards. So, a big part of what we do is making sure that there's space for them. Making sure they're connected to what's happening in the Western world, making sure that as they grow and scale (also as our company grows and scales) they have equal access to the market and there is equal opportunities for this to be replicated in other developing areas. That is our plan. We are hoping to implement one of our first projects in the Caribbean next year. We want to develop a biorefinery and start having some training facilities there to make sure they are able to get the right knowledge and the right infrastructure to valorize their raw materials in order to become their own entrepreneurs. It's hard in the Caribbean. A lot of the economy is very relying on tourism (almost 50%). So, when tourism stops, the economy practically stops. There needs to be other avenues that people can find opportunities there.”
Which areas of sustainability do you think are the most important ones to tackle?
“This is one of the aspects that I was talking about: social inclusion. I think a lot of people create sustainability concepts and they have such a hyper-local approach to it and they don't think about the bigger picture. And I think that is an aspect in sustainability that's often looked past, but along with that I would say just having a more broad approach to food systems in general. Yes, we are trying to create healthier habits, we are trying to get more people on plant-based diets, but agriculture isn't as reliable as it seems to be. Our population is growing, we have to rethink our food systems in general. That means we need to focus on where we are sourcing our food and if no one is eating seaweeds or alternative plant-based proteins now, when it is a problem, it won't be able to be balanced. So, a lot of what we do is just trying to change the dynamics of how we approach food, how we look at different alternatives. Giving people products to actually start incorporating this type of thing into their lifestyle has to start now because by 2050 we definitely won't be able to feed everyone out of agriculture. So, I think that is the biggest issue: really having a look at our food system as a whole and trying to create more options and alternatives, making customers understand that we have to start making these choices now before it is too late.”
Once again we would like to thank Amankwa for dedicating part of her day to introduce us to Seatrients and talk about the importance of rethinking current eating habits which, as seen, will not be sustained for long for future generations.