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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Voya: Seaweed products prove winning formula for Sligo family business

Published 26/03/2014 | 12:23

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Mark Walton of Voya
Mark Walton, Kira Walton and Neil Walton of VOYA Products.
Kira Walton of Voya
Kira Walton of Voya

IN the early Noughties, husband and wife Mark and Kira Walton found themselves without an income when Mark was made redundant from his job in finance.

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They decided to return to Mark’s home county of Sligo, take stock and consider the future. While staying with Mark’s brother Neil, who had opened a seaweed bath business in 1999, the couple became enthused about what he was offering.

Initially, they considered expanding the family business to open more seaweed baths but it was 2003 and the price of commercially-zoned land had sky-rocketed. Inspiration struck when the Waltons noticed that many people were looking to buy seaweed products.

They researched the organic seaweed market and found to their surprise that one didn’t exist. They seized the opportunity, launched the Voya range and have never looked back.

The beauty industry is a notoriously difficult one to crack but the Waltons were a start-up with a mission. They visited trade shows and approached hotel brands and retailers, who were impressed by the innovative products.

In the first four years of trading, Voya’s turnover doubled annually.

The environmental aspect of Voya was ingrained in the brand from the start. Walton’s father was one of the original board of directors of the Organic Trust, the ingredients used in Voya’s products are organic, and the couple wanted to ensure they were organic inside and out.

At present Voya uses FSC-certified packaging, but is researching the use of seaweed by-products from its manufacturing to make paper board. The firm uses soya-based inks on cartons, and environmental responsibility is at the core of what it does. Its aim is to secure carbon neutral certification in the near future, according to Mark Walton.

“When we make a product, we analyse everything from cradle to grave. Where are our ingredients coming from, where are they made, where is packaging coming from and how will it be disposed of?

“We are an example for environmental responsibility, and if you are in that space and that is the brand ethos, you really have to live up to it,” he adds.

The firm has grown its headcount to 20 employees, exports a huge proportion of its products, and plans are under way to set up an office in the US in early 2015.

“There are so many opportunities that exist in Ireland, but in the same respect Ireland is the size of Manchester, so if you really have ambitions to grow your business, you’re better off spreading out now,” says Walton.

He adds that it’s important for firms to maximise on the Irish diaspora. “People will not buy your product because you’re Irish, but they will meet you.”

With 10 years in business under his belt, Walton’s advice is to surround yourself with “brilliant people”.

“Also, trust your gut instinct. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it. Nobody else will know your product as well as you.”

Voya was a recent winner in the Small Small Firms Association 2014 awards in association with Independent.ie.

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