Name: Sarah Leung
Motto or mantra you live or work by:
Challenge your comfort zone everyday
What sparked your passion for the health and wellness industry?
My passion for the health and wellness industry started with my passion for food and cooking. Back in high school, I was very curious about what kind of foods promote health. I dreamt to open my consultation company one day educating people how to eat right!
Tell us about Alg Seaweed and what inspired you to start it?
My dream was fulfilled twelve years later after completing my university degree. I worked as a consultant dietitian for seven years in my own private practice. But, I feel like I am not reaching enough people. And let’s be honest, dietary advice can only go so far. My passion is food and cooking and I knew my next project is going to be an innovated food product that solve a common nutritional issues. Due to my cultural background, I have been eating seaweed since a very young age. Having the nutrition and consulting background, I understand how iodine deficiency is such a national health problem. Interestingly, people know seaweed is nutritious and high in iodine but not many know how to use it. So I had the idea of turning seaweed into a sprinkle and Alg Seaweed was born.
Why did you choose the name Alg?
Alg stems from the word algae, simple as that. I thought it’s just a short and easy enough word to remember for the brand. When people ask me what Alg stands for, they just get it as soon as I say algae.
I understand you are passionate about iodine deficiencies. Why is iodine so important for our bodies?
Iodine plays an important role in making thyroid hormones and these hormones regulate our body’s metabolism. It is also a crucial nutrient for intellectual and cognitive development during childhood.
Iodine requirement increases during pregnancy as thyroid hormones are essential for fetal development.
Who is most at risk of iodine deficiencies?
It is identified that the population iodine status for Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania to be mildy deficient. Iodine deficiency has been a long standing problem in Australia. The introduction of iodised salt and mandatory iodine fortification in bread have been the national strategies to reduce the risk associates with iodine deficiency. More alarmingly, Australian pregnant women’s iodine status is well below optimal level with up to 58% women are iodine deficient.
How can we get more iodine into our bodies?
The best sources of iodine are seaweed, oysters and fish followed by dairy products and eggs. Eating a variety of these foods on a regular basis can ensure we are meeting our daily requirement. For example, you can use Alg on eggs and avocado in the morning or sprinkle it on fish and have lots of veggies for dinner.
Was it hard launching your product?
It wasn’t too bad. The hardest part was to understand a little bit of every aspect about launching a retail food product such as where to get packaging done, how to get barcodes and e-commerce.
Is your product small batch?
Yes! We mill, mix, jar, sticker, deliver, post all by our hands (for now). Our seaweed is highly seasonal so we have to work with what the season has to offer.
Is this the only thing you do?
Absolutely not! I tend to overload myself with multiple projects. I still own and manage my award winning wellness centre, Healthy Energy Holistic Lifestyle & Wellness Centre in Glen Waverley, Melbourne. I am a casual lecturer at La Trobe University. I teach full time ballet students nutrition and I am also a food photographer and stylist. I also run a few corporate nutrition workshops and cooking classes throughout the year from small to large companies.
How do you manage to have time for everything?
I have three diaries for different purposes. I have our practice management software calendar for all client appointments and schedules. My personal life and other work matters are all on Google Calendar and I use a paper diary as a to-do list to make sure things are getting done. I try to have one day a week to rest. It can be mini road trips, farmers market shopping or eating out with my friends and family.
What/who helped you make your dreams come true?
The biggest support definitely came from my family. It is so important to have a support team behind you who believe in what you do even when you don’t believe in yourself. I am extremely lucky to have my lovely husband and immediate family who are always there for me from getting up at 7am to set up market stalls to working all weekend to help me finish a project.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
There is no typical working day based on what I’ve just described about what I do. However, the first thing of the day is always a cup of coffee and replying emails so they don’t clutter. At times I will meditate before my coffee using the app Headspace. From there I either go into the clinic to see clients, plan for any upcoming cooking classes or seminars, meetings with contacts I’ve made through networking events, supporting my students at university and update course content or cooking and styling photos for my own businesses or other brands I freelance for.
How do you know that things are a little out of balance?
Oh trust me, I know!!! I have this experience recently. I felt really unmotivated and was just living on survival mode. Even worse is that I get nightmares and shoulder pain. I am not a TV person but I got so tired all I wanted to do is to sit and watch TV just to waste the day away so I didn’t have to think, despite the million things I need to tick off on my list.
How do you take care of yourself when this happens?
The first step is to be aware and observe how I react to things when I feel the stress is creeping up. When I can see clearly that I am in trouble I try to look at my diary and see what I can hold off. I try to give myself some space and time to let the stress and the feeling of overwhelm pass. I will also exercise to relief some of the stress. I don’t like going to the gym but have been doing classical ballet since I was four and a ballet class always makes me feel better!
What has been the best business advice you have ever received? And did you follow it?
Know your numbers!! Sounds very simple and intuitive but very hard to always get on top of! Getting the matrix right for the business is inevitable. I learnt it the hard way with my first business and can’t afford to repeat the same mistake with Alg!
Another one is to feel the fear and do it anyway. I like to validate my own ideas so I find myself always trying new things. Most of the time I felt very nervous about it but that’s part of the learning experience and fun.
Have you ever faced a point in your business when you through it wouldn’t work?
Yes! The business model of my wellness centre now is different from when I started. It took me a couple of years to realised I have many unmotivated staff, my management skills were poor and the matrix weren’t right. It took me a good six months to face and admit what went wrong and come up with an alternative to keep it going.
If yes, what changed?
I had a hard look at our financials, cut all staff who weren’t performing and restructure the business model so everyone in the company has ownership.
What advice can you offer to other women starting out in business.
There will never be a good time to start a business. Just do it and stop making excuses like ‘I am too young’, ‘I am too old’, ‘I am not good enough’. The best learning experience is just do it and learn on the job. Life is so short and there’s nothing worse than regretting things that you wish you have done.
What does the future hold for your business?
I have a few plans on product expansion in the coming twelve months but at this stage, we want to focus on brand awareness and educating our audience about the goodness of seaweed.
When you’re not working, people will find you…
In farmers market and my kitchen studio whipping up new dishes and taking photos of it!!!
What’s your favourite recipe?
I really enjoy a bowl of homemade poke bowl with great quality raw fish, seaweed salad, edamame beans, cucumber salad and alg on Japanese rice. I also love five spice grilled duck breast with Asian slaw as a dinner and leftover lunch.
Top 5 instagram accounts that you follow and why…
Gunnar Freyr from @Icelandic_explorer. Going to Iceland is on my bucketlist and Gunnar takes exceptional photos, makes me feel like I am there!
Sneh Roy from @cookrepublic - Sneh is a talented mum, blogger, stylist, cook and photographer. Just everything I want to be!! I specifically love her new kitchen!
Australian Gourmet Traveller @gourmettraveller - This is all my love in one!! Cooking, travel and food!
Shellie Froidevaux @ironchefshellie - After many years of following her and saving up, I was lucky enough to do one of her food photography workshop where I found my love for the whole world of photography and food styling. Not to mention Shellie is the most down to earth and supportive person I know!!!
Beth Kirby @local_milk - You can see the theme here. I really love travel and food and Beth prefects both!
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