Q&A: A pinch of salt the perfect solution for Fiji-based start-up

English couple Alex and Will moved to Fiji 20 yeears ago.They established a highly successful diving business but when COVID decimated the islands’ tourism industry they had a find a new way to make a living, and found the answer through the realisatioon that the sea water that surrounded them could be harvested to produce a range of salts.

ISB: What was the “lightbulb moment” that saw you turn your interest in sea salt into a business?

Will: We arrived in Fiji twenty years ago to set up a dive shop at Tokoriki Island Resort. Early on business was quiet and between dives we’d collect water to make salt for fun. I think we even talked about supplementing our income by trying to sell it. Then Tokoriki Diving got busier and busier. In February 2020 (normally tourism’s quietest month) we turned over more than we did in the whole of our first year. But by mid-March we were closed due to COVID. For the first few months we enjoyed lockdown on a tropical island and planned for a reopening, but as reality dawned, we knew we had to do something. We moved down to our farm and tried to grow vegetables, but soon realised that everyone in Fiji was doing the same. Then one evening we were sitting on our deck and sprinkling the last of an expensive imported salt on our meal. That was when Alex had her eureka moment.

ISB: I understand sustainability is very important to you – how does this manifest itself in your day-to-day operations.

Alex: Salt is produced in three ways – by mining rock salt, through boiling sea water, and via solar and wind evaporation. We use the last. So, once the seawater is on our salt tables there is zero consumption of artificial energy. We do consume a small amount of fuel on our weekly sea run to collect sea water, but we hope in time to change to an electric outboard. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about our salt is that there is no waste at all. Four products – two grades of finishing salt, a magnesium and potassium rich liquid for which we are planning a wellness range (watch this space), and fresh water.

ISB: How does South Seas Salt differ from other sea salt products?

Will: It’s all about moisture. Rock salt, table salt, mass produced salt is bone dry – put it on food and it sucks the moisture out. We harvest our Diamond sel gris early in crystallisation and it contains more than 10 per cent liquid so it does the opposite. It dissolves on the surface of the food creating a layer of saltiness than moistens and accentuates flavours that otherwise our palette would miss. We collect our sea water from open ocean outside our barrier reef. It’s hundreds of kilometres from cities and industries, so it is as clean and clear as it gets. Our evaporation in the sun and the wind is slow and gentle so we don’t lose the flavours and goodness of the minerals you would if you boiled the water. The exact process we use is, we believe, unique. It’s inspired by other artisan salt makers’ techniques but adapted to our geography and climate.

ISB: What is your vision for the development of the business in the next couple of years?

Alex: In the future to make this a viable business we need to expand fourfold. To do this we either need tourists to come back, or to start exporting, or both! We’re working with a chemist to work out the best way to use it – in scrubs, soaps and facial mists, and possibly as a completely natural rehydration drink. We can personally attest that it’s a great hangover cure!

Will: I can’t wait until we’re big enough to employ more people and I want to go further with the sustainability. I love boats so I’m really keen on the idea of an electric outboard engine with solar panels doing at least some of the charging of the batteries.

ISB: And, finally, what is the #1 lesson you’ve learnt on your business journey you’d share with other entrepreneurs?

Alex: If you believe, really believe, in what you’re doing, then be patient, and it will happen.