Online Exclusives

Ancient Irish Secret

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | July 23, 2013

Straight from the Emerald Isle, Voya’s seaweed products are found in spas, hotels and retail markets around the world.

Seaweed has a storied history of medicinal benefits. Once referred to as the “Sailor’s cure,” seaweed baths have been popular for more than 300 years.
 
The Irish flocked to facilities that used the marine plant to cure what ailed them. At one time, there were more than 100 marine wellness centers in Ireland alone, each offering baths using the marine plant harvested from the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
 
Today, the number of wellness centers in Ireland has dropped to a scant few, but Voya is keeping the benefits of seaweed treatments alive and well with modern consumers in the Ireland and elsewhere.
 
The cold-water plant seems to be a hot commodity with eco-minded shoppers who are smitten with natural and organic products.
 
“In the last 10 years we have seen the demand for our seaweed baths and other therapies expand rapidly, fueled by the cultural shift to embrace traditional wellness practices along with a move to organic products and materials,” said Mark Walton, managing director, who founded Voya Beauty.
 
This Spring, Voya’s products were picked up by its first online retailer in the US, www.aylabeauty.com. But spa goers and travelers in the US and many other countries may have encountered this organic beauty and skin care brand through its extensive hotel amenities and spa presence.
 
“Thankfully, our launch coincides with a large consumer shift towards organics and general environmental awareness,” Walton said.
 
 
Voya traces its roots back to 1912 when the first seaweed bath/wellness center opened in Strandhill, County Sligo.
 
Walton, who describes Voya’s current seaside spa “modest,” has seen client turnover grow from 3,000 customers to 40,000 annually.  
 
That foot traffic helps Voya’s retail presence.
 
“Voya seaweed baths is a bit of a ‘must do’ thing in Ireland and attracts around 30,000 visitors a year, so it’s a natural sampling tool,” he said. “The natural evolution of the growth of our business was the decision to supplement our seaweed baths, which are certified organic, with a range of seaweed based organic therapies and health and beauty products.”
 
Walton added, “Voya is the result of eight years work; our products and therapies combine our traditional knowledge of the therapeutic properties of seaweed with the scientific expertise of the best cosmetic scientists, marine biologists and dermatologists.”
 
Today, Voya products can be found in 35 countries, with approximately 95% of its business coming through luxury hotel and day spas. Its retail clients include Selfridges in London, House of Fraser and Avoca in Ireland.
 
Voya has been supplying a number of US luxury properties, notably St. Regis, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Canyon Ranch. The brand’s Seaweed Bath is its most iconic product; the facial serum and body moisturizer are extremely popular too.
 
“Real advances in green chemistry over the last few years” have really helped with consumer expectation, according to Walton, who has the “organic” movement in his blood. His father, a founder of the organic movement in Ireland, was one of the original directors on the board of the Organic Trust.
 
“Eco/Organic may be new, it’s not for us; we grew up with it, along with the tradition of sustainably harvesting seaweed by hand,” said Walton, who has helped with drafting organic aquaculture standards for the European Union organic standards. He also sits on the EU expert panel on organic standards for the EU Commission and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), which works to promote sustainable organic agriculture around the world.
 
According to Walton, Voya uses biodegradable or recyclable materials in its packaging “wherever feasible, down to the chips we pack our boxes with.” In addition, manufacturing is done with sustainable energy, (specifically wind) in Strandhill.
 
“Five years ago, being a certified organic brand meant we had to make compromises when it came to feel and texture of many cosmetics and we couldn’t make a comparable products. That thankfully has changed significantly,” said Walton.
 
He told HAPPI that the firm has invested approximately 20% of its turnover in R&D, specifically for new product development.
 
“The fruit of this is going to be a seismic re-launch of making core products, but also brand extension,” he told HAPPI.
 
Without divulging too many details, Walton said expect significant brand expansion, with focused isolated seaweed extract to treat conditions rather than skin types.
 
“We are also launching sub-ranges for global markets and a highly functional range of organic facial products, targeting the age defiance sector in 2014, which will use many ingredients developed from a collaborative project with a few Irish universities.”
 
 

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