Sea Chips, made with crispy salmon skin, challenging the snack market

Published on
February 27, 2019

When former chef Daniel Pawson decided to listen to his customers and sell his signature crispy fried salmon skins as a snack, he had little idea that Sea Chips would become so successful.

“I have never liked waste and was always looking for ways to use up the bits that most people throw away, such as salmon skin. Instead, I used it as a garnish, and so many customers really liked the taste and texture and encouraged me to investigate its potential as a new type of crisp (chip), that I thought, why not?” Pawson told SeafoodSource.

The idea behind Sea Chips took a few years to develop, while Pawson applied the skills he had learned training in high-end, three-Michelin Star restaurants to private cooking for celebrities, including singer Kylie Minogue. 

“I was a pretty good chef and still love cooking, but I was never keen on the high pressure, high pace restaurant environment, preferring the creative space that being a private chef brought. Turning the skins into a business was a leap of faith, but leaving the kitchen was never a surprise,” he said.

He teamed up with business partner Dominic Smith, with whom he had run a mobile food trailer selling potato rostis at events and festivals in the past, and started collecting salmon skins from fishmongers. 

Pawson explained that trial and error played a large part in the development of Sea Chips, and although the initial results were not very consistent and the packaging was not quite right, he could see that the product had potential.

“Every crisp was made by hand, which was a long process, and I realised that it was not a viable long-term option, but we had to start somewhere. The skins were washed, boiled to soften them, then dehydrated, fried, and hand packed,” Pawson said. 

Similar products are popular with the Asian community, but these are generally seasoned with salted egg yolk, which is not so attractive to the European taste. Pawson and Smith decided to keep things simple and to use three more traditionally British flavors: lightly salted, lime and chilli, and salt and vinegar. 

Orders began to trickle in, but Pawson realised that he needed to raise funds to professionalize his production, and applied to appear on Dragon’s Den, the popular TV series in which budding entrepreneurs get three minutes to pitch their business ideas to five multi-millionaires willing to invest their own cash.

“I was thrilled to get onto the programme, but it was a nerve-wracking, intense experience. I was offered [EUR] 30,000 [USD 34,127] for 35 percent of the company, but I turned it down because I did not believe it offered me good value,” he said.

However, the social media interest that his TV appearance generated led salmon-industry mogul Jonathan Brown, former owner of MacKnight Foods, to get in touch with an offer to help Pawson and Smith take their business idea to the next level. 

Within two months, a deal had been sealed, and the investment and Brown’s expertise helped to secure a state-of-the-art factory in Cumbria, in the north of England.  A new source of skins was also secured, from Grants Smokehouse in Cumbria, which is owned by Brown.

The 10,000-square-foot plant, has a production capacity of 100,000 units per week, and new equipment that has revolutionised the way Sea Chips are made.

“Our new cooker controls the air flow throughout the process, drying the skins at the start and giving them a big hit of heat at the end, which crisps them up and replicates the fried taste and texture without the need for oil. A bandsaw finishes the job, cutting the skin into crisp-sized pieces. Nothing is added, it’s just salmon skin, which makes them a healthy, high protein, low carb snack,” said Pawson. 

The process has also changed the taste of Sea Chips, making them less overpoweringly fishy, although he finds that people still tend to love them or hate them.

“The good thing is that more and more people are growing to like them. They also like our ethical stance, which includes donating 10 percent of our profits to ocean charities,” he said.

Pawson is confident that with the new market introductions brought by Brown and increased marketing and PR effort on the part of Sea Chips, the first GBP 1 million (USD 1.27 million) revenue goal can be achieved within 18 months.

“Our product is already on sale in Harrods, Wholefoods and Fenwicks, and has an online presence through Amazon and MuscleFood, the UK’s largest online nutrition retailer. We are also in talks with some major UK retailers supermarkets in the UK and plan to launch in three supermarkets by the end of 2019,” he said. 

The longer-term plan is to grow sales in health food stores, restaurants and bars, and to tackle the export market, with opportunities currently being explored in Hong Kong and Scandinavia. 

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