Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 11:15 pm | Fair 62º




Salty Girl Seafood Startup Finds Footing in Santa Barbara Retail Market

Co-founders and UCSB alums Norah Eddy and Laura Johnson keep focus on sustainable, traceable seafood but expand offerings with marinated, ready-to-cook fish

Salty Girl Seafood came out of UC Santa Barbara’s Technology Management Program New Venture Competition in 2014. From left, co-founder Laura Johnson, chief information officer Gina Auriemma and co-founder Norah Eddy.
Salty Girl Seafood came out of UC Santa Barbara’s Technology Management Program New Venture Competition in 2014. From left, co-founder Laura Johnson, chief information officer Gina Auriemma and co-founder Norah Eddy. (Salty Girl Seafood photo)

“Where can I get Salty Girl Seafood?”

That was a question startup co-founders Norah Eddy and Laura Johnson kept getting, although neither knew how to answer it.

The pair established Salty Girl Seafood in 2014 after gaining recognition through UC Santa Barbara’s Technology Management Program New Venture Competition, where the finalists raked in more than $40,000 in awards for their business idea.

They envisioned Salty Girl Seafood as a seafood company developing sustainable, traceable sea-found fare, and the software to source products directly from fishermen to chefs in restaurants.

So, technically, no one outside the realm of 30 participating fishermen and 100 restaurant chefs from as far away as New York could get Salty Girl Seafood — until now.

A pre-packaged, ready-to-cook Salty Girl Seafood product line went into select local grocery stores this summer, including Gladden & Sons Produce in Goleta, Isabella Gourmet Foods in Santa Barbara and Solvang’s New Frontiers Natural Marketplace.

Everything comes marinated and seasoned, so customers can buy fish (mostly caught on the Central Coast) and not fret about how to cook it or where it came from.

Within weeks, the retail side eclipsed restaurant sales.

“We let the ‘why’ direct the operation,” Eddy told Noozhawk. “We’ve been very lucky. The community has been great. They wanted to be a part of it. We’re always testing things.”

Keeping to its original mission, each lemon pepper and garlic salmon, sweet and smoky teriyaki black cod, and garlic chili-rub rockfish includes a traceable code on its single-serving packaging.

Salty Girl Seafood has started selling ready-to-cook fish in a retail line at select local stores. Click to view larger
Salty Girl Seafood has started selling ready-to-cook fish in a retail line at select local stores. (Salty Girl Seafood photo)

That code can be entered into the website of the company, which is also in discussions to enter the meal-kit delivery market and major grocery chains.

Retail goals put a pause on the restaurant portion of the company’s online marketplace until its co-founders — both 27 and recent graduates of UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management master’s program — can get a better sense of what customers want most.

Eddy and Johnson both grew up on the water, where they gained an appreciation for fishermen and the responsibility they have to consumers.

They remark how odd it is that Eddy, who hails from a small New England fishing town, and Johnson, a Chicago native, never met before Bren School orientation. They figured out both had participated in the same program years ago as research scientists aboard commercial fishing boats in Alaska.

Salty Girl Seafood has assembled a core team of five employees, including TMP Entrepreneur-in Residence Craig Cummings as CEO and two fellow UCSB grads.

Eddy concentrates more on the sales side, while Johnson acts as COO.

They don’t get a ton of sleep working in coffee shops or in the kitchen preparing fish, but they hope to have an office space soon and will keep experimenting with their product.

“We have a lot of goals,” Eddy said. “How do we establish our model to know that we’re continuing in an overarching way?”

Salty Girl Seafood also has an educational arm waiting to be tapped, possibly by partnering with others in the future.

“The goal of our company is not just to be a seafood company,” Johnson said. “Large-scale change also comes from collaboration.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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