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Exporters must see beyond salt as commodity, says Salt of the Earth

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn+

24-Mar-2014
Last updated on 25-Mar-2014 at 13:20 GMT

Salt companies must look towards new product innovation and away from commodification if they expect to export at a profit, according to Israeli company Salt of the Earth.

Speaking with FoodNavigator at the firm's plant in Atlit, Salt of the Earth CEO Dovik Tal said: "If you're looking to export outside of Israel this is almost the worst product."

He said aside from the firm's unique selling point of selling kosher salt, it would "kill a business" to export salt as a straight commodity to markets like South America. "We want to go away from commodity, which even when we sell to America has very little profit margin."

Instead the company said its recent focus on value-added products - with launches like low sodium salt that match the taste profile of regular salt and coloured low sodium salt aimed at children - is a shift towards segments that held greater and more profitable export potential.

Like selling ice to the inuits?

The company's export manager, Avi Freund, agreed with Tal, saying: "Salt is produced in every country so it's difficult to export."

Freund said the market for ordinary salt was "very saturated".

"We call it a sheer product. There's no loyalty - it's like buying gas for a car - if it's cheaper elsewhere people will go there," he told us.

Tal said this pressure to keep retail salt prices down meant it wasn't possible to compete with local producers within the basic table salt segment. They said the company recently lost a contract to an Indian company who could produce the straight salt for around $2 a ton.

New product innovation

The firm said its recent low sodium product launches were part of its export plans. Freund said: "If you look at low sodium, this is against what we are doing [as a salt producer] but we see this is in the future so we will be there."

A coloured low sodium salt called Wonder Salt - reported by FoodNavigator towards the end of last year and to be launched in Israel in August this year - was positioned as a way to teach children to take notice of how much salt they were putting on their food, whilst also being reduced sodium in itself.

Meanwhile it hoped its low sodium Red Sea salt, which the firm said combined the salt of the Red Sea and potassium of the Dead Sea, would also tap into this consumer trend.

It said this combination combated the difference in taste profile between regular salt and low sodium salt, which it said deterred some customers from choosing low sodium salt.

Freund said: "We want to shift [low sodium] from only ill people to all people." Adding there was a danger that low sodium salt could be seen as a medicinal option for people with health issues like high blood pressure, with the taste difference serving to confirm this for healthy consumers.

The company said Israeli salt was superior in quality as well as environmentally due to the country's proximity to the salty Dead Sea and local weather conditions. The company pumps sea water from the Dead Sea to ponds just inland to produce its salt. It said this distillation process - which does not require crystallisation since the water already has a high salt concentration and is not dirty because the beach is made of coral not salt - is more environmentally friendly in terms of local water supply and pollution and is of higher quality than its alternatives. 

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