Vancouver Island artisanal salt company wins Canada-wide business competition

Vancouver Island Salt Co. | BCBusiness

Vancouver Island Salt Co. will use its prize money, $100,000, to fulfil its promise of expanding abroad

According to a Canada-wide business contest, one Vancouver Island foodie company is more than worth its salt.

Vancouver Island Salt Co., a Cobble Hill-based outfit producing artisanal sea salt, was awarded $100,000 in Telus’s Small Business Challenge competition, which was announced Thursday. The local salt sellers now hope to shake up the worldwide market for gourmet seasonings.

“We’re really excited about it,” says founder Andrew Shepherd. “We’ve also had a really great reach-out from the local community people who support us. They’re celebrating the win too.”

The company’s pitch for the cash prize focused on their environmentally sustainable operation and plans to expand into overseas markets. They collect seawater off of Vancouver Island’s Cherry Point Beach, evaporate it in boilers powered by recycled vegetable oil, and sell the crystallized salt to chefs and consumers looking for a high-quality, sustainably-produced product.

Currently, their sales mainly come from in-province specialty food retailers and higher-end restaurants touting Canadian ingredients. But with the $100,000, Shepherd hopes to successfully market his product globally. “We want to make sure we don’t take a big misstep. We want to make sure we end up with the right distributors [and] make good on all our promises, and the big one was that we’d go international,” Shepherd says.

Their first step will be to partner with a Hong Kong distributor to take the product to Asia. They’ll also use the cash to hire new staff, purchase more equipment and increase production to meet the new demand. “We’re pretty confident Vancouver Island is going to be known as a place over there. I think our branding is going to hold up well and be very attractive,” Shepherd says. “Although we’ll need some help with the translations.”

The company is currently developing a new product to attract these new customers: large flake salt, with giant pyramid-shaped crystals the size of loonies. “It’s basically super aesthetically pleasing,” he explains. “From the basic research we’ve done, it’s the sort of thing the Asian market is really fond of.”

Their current product line also includes a standard sea salt, smoked salt, fleur de sel (a delicate flake salt of which theirs is the only Canadian-made version) and flavoured salts from blue cheese to Jamaican jerk spice. But Shepherd says the natural flavour of B.C. ocean minerals is the product’s true selling point. The salt isn’t refined or chemically separated, and its mineral composition changes with the seasons—in winter, the tidewater contains more magnesium, which imparts a greyish tinge and subtly alters the flavour. “We’re so committed to it being completely unrefined, so we’re happy to just let it change,” Shepherd says.

Over 1,000 Canadian small businesses competed in the Small Business Challenge. Four made it to the final round: Vancouver Island Salt Co., hockey-statistics firm Stathletes, submersible microscope company 4Deep Inwater Imaging, and Imbibitive Technologies, which makes products to clean up oil and hazardous chemical spills. Judges praised Vancouver Island Salt Co., the only B.C. company in the final round, for its eco-friendly operation and its clear, straightforward business case. 

“We’re excited for the next year to come,” Shepherd says. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, and we’re going to make a lot of salt.”