Cowichan’s Salt Co. takes $100K prize

The Vancouver Island Salt Company now has $100,000 to help it go global, after winning a national contest.

The artisan salt producers, who are centered in Cobble Hill, were named the winners Thursday, Sept. 18 from among four finalists in a challenge that was open to small businesses across the country.

The contest, sponsored by Telus and the Globe and Mail, is now in its fourth year and aims to help businesses overcome obstacles.

Company founder Andrew Shepherd said he’s thrilled to learn that his operation has been rewarded for its innovation. Congratulations and requests for interviews had been pouring in, he said.

"My phone is actually hot. It’s been blowing up since 5 a.m. It’s been pretty overwhelming, really. The hardest part was keeping a secret for the past week. The Globe is the co-sponsor; they wanted to make the big splash today," Shepherd said Thursday.

"I had to sign a contract that if it slipped out on my behalf I’d be disqualified. It was really hard because all I wanted to do was stand up and scream it from the top of Cobble Hill," Shepherd said.

There’s a cheque ceremony on Sept. 29 in Vancouver, which Shepherd and his partners will attend.

"Then we’ll have some real work to get down to," he said.

Their first move towards a bigger future has been lining up another salt harvester.

"We’ve felt for the last little while that we’re undermanned in terms of reaping the production gold necessary to expand into new markets," Shepherd said.

"Then we’re going to look at ways to distribute outside of Canada. We feel like we’re covering Canada pretty well on our own with our distribution plan but we really don’t have any idea how to market to distributors in Asia, which is our specific target market. But there’s some language and cultural barriers so we are going to invest money in some people who know what they are doing in that market," he said.

VI Salt has been working towards an Asian push.

"We’ve developed a new product especially for the Asian market. With the help of the new salt harvester we’ll be able to really turn out some large amounts.

The goal, with the prize money in hand, is to become a global sea salt company in six to eight months.

"I actually think it’s going to happen sooner," Shepherd said.

While he has always focused on making salt, his company strategy is "finding people who have strengths and expertise and let them do what they do," he said.

"I think it’s working so well for us as a general concept on how to run a business. We’re not going to stray from that. We’re going to take this money and hopefully we can find the right people to take us from a great Canadian company to a great global company."

The team harvests salt by hand from Island shores, and is adamant about producing the salt in a sustainable manner. Unlike other salt companies, VI Salt completely changed production two years ago to use recycled cooking oil for the dehydration process – a big investment that Shepherd believed was worth making.