Food waste is not a singe issue. There are myriad causes of waste in the food industry, from by-catch being discarded, to overproduction, to consumer desire for ‘good-looking’ fruit and vegetables. Dan Pawson is co-founder of Sea Chips, who make snacks from salmon skin that would otherwise go to waste. Marrying the subjects of sustainable fisheries and food waste, he hopes that the wider food industry will embrace the idea that waste need not be wasted. Locavore caught up with Dan about his products and his plans for the future.
What gave you the idea of making and selling crisps made from fish skin?
I initially trained as a chef, and one of our main jobs was to make use of everything. Nothing should go to waste, our job as chefs is to innovate, and to make something special and premium from nothing. Salmon skin, or any fish skin in general, was was of the most wasted items. Which is crazy when you think of all the nutrition, such as protein, omega 3, and collagen, it contains. We started to play around with the salmon skin and developed a process that retained the nutrients but still left you with a light, delicious crisp, without any strong overly fishy taste. When we started to serve them to customers they encouraged us to bag them up, and then Sea Chips was born soon after!
How do you make your crisps?
The skins arrive in from fishmongers on a weekly basis. The process is a combination of techniques, such as steaming, dehydrating, and light frying. It’s no massive secret or particularly hard, but it is time consuming. What we save on price by buying a raw material we make up on putting in extra care and attention.
What would otherwise happen to the skins? Are there other uses?
The majority of them go to waste, but they can be used in beauty products – they extract the collagen from them. They can also be ground up into pet treats as they’re super nutritious.
From where do you source your ingredients?
A variety of fishmongers, the majority are Scottish salmon skins. We only take skins that are from sustainable sources, and we make sure they have accreditations such as MSC to prove this.
You’re going to be supporting a marine charity with a portion of profits. Can you tell us more?
Yes, so as you probably know one of the hottest topics the world faces is ocean pollution. As our product comes from the sea it is important that we give back and look after the ocean. We are still deciding which charity to donate to, at the moment it’s between 4Ocean and the Ocean Cleanup Project. During our in-store samples we have asked our customers to decide which they prefer. Both charities do amazing work on cleaning the oceans.
For us, as a growing brand, it’s important to not only produce a super-tasty product but that, in every part of our business, we look at how we can not only source ethically but also make sure we’re setting an example of how modern businesses should be run, by giving back.
I can see how fish skin might be a divisive thing to snack on. What has been the reaction to your products?
Really positive! Whether you love them or hate them you’ll definitely talk about them. We’ve found if you like fish in general then you should like them. If the UK can have such an appetite for pork scratchings – made from an animal that spends its time rolling in its own sh*t – then we think salmon skin isn’t really that crazy. Plus you’ll get no hairs on ours!
You come from a cheffing background. Kitchens are getting much better with using up ‘waste’ which is actually perfectly edible and tasty. Do you think the bar snack sector is catching up?
I can’t really think of any bar snack that uses waste at the moment. Certainly we feel we would make a great bar snack, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before more food products made from waste crop up. The drinks sector has quite a few, but the only other snack product I can think of is Spare Fruit – who I love!
Many other cultures and cuisines use a lot more of their fish than we do in the UK. Why do you think we shy away from skin and roe, for example?
It’s totally crazy, we literally live on an island surrounded by water yet we are quite fussy about fish sometimes! I guess it’s just not something we have really grown up eating. We are quite ‘safe’ with our food choices in the UK, but I think this is changing as more Asian influences are coming over, and you can see the rise of quite unique products. Cod roe itself is delicious. The funny thing about that is, although the people in the UK don’t think they like it, they tend to not know its in things like taramasalata which is one of the most popular dips in the UK.
To sum up, I think the younger generation are really up for trying new things, as we’ve found with Sea Chips, but the over-forties tend to be set in their ways and not keen to try new things, or perhaps just don’t quite have the palate for it!
Does your thinking around sustainability affect other aspects of your business?
Certainly we’re currently in talks with a company to try to make our packaging from waste material, but until we can increase our production it’s not a particularly viable option. I think we’ve started off as sustainable as we can be, but as we grow and develop we can start to transition into making other areas as sustainable. But at the moment the product comes first.
Do you think that heightened consumer awareness around sustainable fishing is driving significant change in the industry?
Yes. We do get asked a lot about our sustainability, and more people look out for the correct accreditations. In recent years the rise in salmon’s popularity, admittedly, has led to a rise in unsustainable fishing practices. Sea Chips combat this by only buying salmon skins from sustainable sources which have the correct accreditation, the main one being MSC.
We initially set out to reduce waste, which was our main mission, but as we grow and develop we do plan to move into other less common fish skins. We are already working with ethically focused retailers, such as Whole Foods, who are stocking our current range and we have had no issues as of yet.
What are your hopes, and fears, for the future? Both for Sea Chips and the wider food world?
I aim to turn fish skin crisps into a mainstream snack. We’re working on something so innovative, and I want to take Sea Chips all over Europe, Australia, and Asia, so we have big goals.
My fears are that we just can’t get people to try the snack, we know if we can get people to try them then they buy them, but all of this takes a lot of marketing investment so fingers crossed we get the financial support we need to push Sea Chips out there. I also have other product lines within the brand I’d like to develop and launch, so it’s all exciting but right now the focus is on just getting Sea Chips out there.
Finally, why do you do what you do?
I like to create things.
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