Salt of the Earth produces salt products for sale in its domestic Israeli market and more than 20 export markets worldwide, selling 130 tonnes of salt in Israel and 50 tonnes internationally per year. According to data provided by the group, Salt of the Earth has a 75% share of the Israeli salt market, while its biggest international markets are Russia and the US.
Currently the company generates around 30% of its revenues through its retail brands, with business-to-business sales to industrial customers accounting for the remaining 70%. This sees salt produced across the group’s three sites, in Atlit, Eilat and Kalia, sold as ingredients for food and cleaning products.
According to Dovik Tal, CEO for Salt of the Earth, while these sales represent the bulk of the group’s business, they are also a highly commoditised revenue streams. “Our big mission is to escape from commodity [sales]. We have to find a way to be special in salt,” he said during a briefing at the firm’s production facility in Atlit.
Moving away from the commodity sector is being achieved through an increased focus on innovation and product development. “Traditional salt is our main business but [our] growth is in innovations,” deputy CEO Ofer Rokni noted as he surveyed the group’s salt evaporation pools that also serve as a bird sanctuary.
Salt of the Earth uses evaporation to extract salt from seawater. But while the company generates the majority of its sales through low-tech traditional methods, innovation in both products and processes is seen as key to its future development. This shift in mindset is enabling the group to generate organic growth of around 3-4% a year, Rokni revealed.
The group is investing in developing more premium salt brands for the Israeli retail market. It is also looking for fresh ways of meeting the needs of distinct consumer sets through products like Wonder Salt, a low sodium salt for kids that is “naturally coloured” with fruit and vegetable extracts.
Embracing salt reduction
The salt manufacturer is all too aware of global trends toward salt reduction, as growing awareness over the negative impact of over-consumption of salt on health pushes down demand.
Rokni said that this is a “challenge”. Nevertheless, he feels that Salt of the Earth is also acting as a trailblazer in this area. “I don’t feel that the market is ready [to make significant steps toward salt reduction]. The attitude of the industry is we will have regulation first… In the UK, voluntary targets are working more than other countries but it is still slow.”
Salt of the Earth is concentrating its efforts on developing ingredients that will help food manufacturers cut salt levels in food products. “The issue of lowering consumption of salt led us to do R&D. We developed microsalt [which is more easily absorbed on the tongue and therefore less is needed to produce the same taste]. But it is not easy to produce,” Rokni noted.
Mediterranean Umami as salt solution
David Hart, business unit director for Salt of the Earth, is responsible for bringing the company’s largest innovation in salt reduction to the market.
The group has developed a Mediterranean Umami ingredient that, it says, is a clean label ingredient that can help reformulaters reduce salt by up to 45%, depending on the application. Salt of the Earth has also discovered an unexpected bonus. Mediterranean Umami can also be used to reduce sugar content by up to 25% in savoury applications such as sauces.
Like Rokni, Hart said that a major driver for this innovation was mounting pressure to reduce salt. And, like Rokni, he also expects this need to increase over time. Particularly, he stressed, government action such as the introduction of salt taxes are likely to spur the industry into action.
“Salt consumption in the Western world is almost twice [World Trade Organisation] recommendations. Almost all of that salt comes from processed foods, not from the salt in your shaker.”
Seventy five global governments have introduced salt targets, he noted, and now that the UK sugar tax has provided a regulatory framework that has proven successful Hart believes we could see an increase in global regulations targeting salt. “If governments introduce voluntary targets and the industry doesn’t respond then it will become involuntary,” he suggested.
In the context of demand for clean label solutions, Hart believes Salt of the Earth’s solution – which has been four years in development – will prove pertinent. “Mediterranean Umami and the solution we have sits in the middle of a lot of mega-trends we are seeing in the industry,” he claimed.
Salt of the Earth has invested US$1m in the construction of a new factory, which came online in 2017. Hart said that the company is now working on “building the market” with “hundreds” of development projects around the world. However, he noted “NPD cycles tend to be very long”.
Certainly, if regulators do adopt a tougher stance on salt reduction targets, the industry could find it has to act more swiftly to deliver products that contain less salt without sacrificing flavour.