What do the frontman for the Kaiser Chiefs and a marine biolgist have in common? Answer: Seaweed. Catherine Scott talks to Ricky Wilson about his latest venture
Ricky Wilson was just eight when he met Craig Rose at Leeds Grammar School.
The future Kaiser Chiefs frontman had broken his arm and so wasn’t allowed in the playground at lunchtime.
“I had to stay inside,” recalls Wilson. “I couldn’t be left on my own and so Craig was chosen to come and sit we with me and that was the start of a friendship which has lasted 30 years.”
For a while the pair even played in a band together where Craig played the drums.
“But he decided to do something a bit more academic,” says Wilson who studied art and design while Rose became a marine biologist.
Although the pair have stayed in touch over the years it was just recently that they decided to go into business together with the launch of Weed and Wonderful Seaweed Oils.
“I’ve followed Craig’s career which clearly took a very different path to mine, but when there was an opportunity to get involved with something as exciting as this I really wanted to be involved.
“We both really loved the sea which is pretty amazing considering we grew up around Leeds.”
But it was Craig who followed the call of the sea, becoming a marine biologist.
It was while studying at Newcastle University and visiting the Outer Hebrides that he fell in love with seaweed and in 2015 founded Seaweed and Co.
“I was doing a PhD and then I was offered a job looking at how you could turn seaweed into fuel.”
But he soon saw other possibilities for this diverse product other than fuel and in animal feed.
“Seaweed is one of the top food trends of 2019 and gaining huge momentum in the food industry due to its highly rich nutrient content, masses of umami flavour and being a sustainable food resource on our planet,” explains Craig, whose passion for the product has seen him dubbed Dr Seaweed.
“Seaweed isn’t weird, it’s wonderful. People are becoming more familiar with it in sushi, but there are so many things you can do with it.”
“I remember seeing my first avocado and thinking it was a bit weird,” says Ricky.
With the backing of his old school friend, Craig launched the Weed and Wonderful range of oils which uses organic Hebridean Ascophyllum seaweed which is sustainably wild harvested around the remote islands of the Scottish Outer Hebrides.
Ricky Wilson adds: “Seaweed has incredible flavour and health benefits as well as being sustainable.”
Their infused seaweed oils recently won BBC One’s The Customer Is Always Right where contestants trialled the products and loved their great taste and ease of use.
Ricky also used his best pal’s seaweed on the Great British Bake Off’s Stand Up to Cancer series in 2018, he baked seaweed wholemeal scones and Paul Hollywood said they tasted “fantastic”.
He maintains this is not just a celebrity endorsement of a product.
“I’m not really massively into healthy eating or changing my lifestyle,” admits Ricky. “But sometimes it is about the little changes you make that can make a big difference.
“Craig’s passion for something that is so healthy is infectious and I am happy to be a part of this emerging industry at the very beginning. I am very excited about it. ”
And he seems to have made a shrewd decision to invest in his mate’s company as Dr Seaweed’s Weed and Wonderful range of oils has just been listed in a number of Sainsburys including Moortown in Leeds and Huddersfield.
It is a busy time for Wilson who, as well as promoting his seaweed oils, is currently on tour with the Kaiser Chiefs and promoting their new album due out this month.
“I always knew Ricky was a hard worker, but I have spent a lot of time with him recently and see just how much goes into what he does, physically and emotionally,” says Craig
But he says he doesn’t regret not pursuing his own musical interests.
“I have developed the products to be incredibly easy to use and add a great flavour boost to any dish. I am hugely passionate about helping people to rediscover seaweed as a sustainable and forgotten healthy and tasty food.”
Sainsbury’s retails Doctor Seaweed’s Weed & Wonderful range of culinary oils across a number of stores as part of their Future Brands programme.
As part of their 150th celebrations Sainsbury’s released a Future of Foods report which references seaweed as one of the key ways to provide food and nutrition in a sustainable way.
And both Rose and Wilson see their seaweed oils, which are manufactured in North Shields, as just the beginning of their mission to turn people on to the benefits of seaweed.
“We can expand this brand across all sorts of categories,” says Craig, who now lives in Whitley Bay with his family although his mum and dad still live in Leeds.
As for Ricky he is enjoying spending time with his best friends and embarking on a new sideline career.
“It feels like the right time to be doing something like this,” he says. “And it is a lot more relaxing if you can do it with a friend.
“I work with friends in Kaiser Chiefs so much so that it doesn’t really feel like work to be honest.”
The pair say if the business takes off they will buy a yacht together and name it after Rose’s grandmother Millie.