WHEN ROSARIA PISERIA first came to Ireland in 2001, it was off the back of being dropped as a distributor of Irish seaweed in Italy.
She had sold Irish seaweed as an agricultural fertiliser to Italian farmers, and also as a sea vegetable to the restaurant industry.
Not one to take defeat lying down, she moved to Ireland to start her own seaweed company.
She started Algaran Seaweed in 2004 from the Aran islands, after researching the local crop. Now based in Donegal, she has seen her company expand into new markets, far from Irish shores.
“In the beginning it was not that easy to sell Irish seaweed, because it was much more expensive. Labour costs were much higher than in Japan”, she told TheJournal.ie.
But after tragedy struck in the form of the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan, opportunity also knocked for Algaran.
The nuclear plant polluted a lot of the seaweed producing grounds nearby, rendering their crop useless, she said.
“It polluted the sea shore very heavily. Close by there were major producers of seaweed, but now it is gone.”
The five-person team working at Algaran now sees Japan as its main export market. Irish seaweed exported by Algaran is now eaten in Japan with sushi. Like many SMEs, the export angle has proved lucrative when skills and circumstances align.
For the moment, Algaran’s export product is a drop in the ocean. As Piseria says, one village in Japan will make short work of 20 tons of seaweed.
The company produces twenty tons per year, but if Japan relaxes import duties on foreign seaweed, Piseria thinks that could grow to as much as 200 tons, delivering another ten jobs to the rural community.
“In a while the market will be freed and we hope to get permission to harvest – the potential of the Irish coast is very high.”
In addition to Japan, Algaran exports to Germany and Italy, where the west coast of Ireland’s reputation as some of the cleanest waters in the world is a major selling point.
Should Irish companies focus on export markets rather than restricting themselves to selling at home?