Anglesey Sea Salt Company: David Lea-Watson

The Anglesey Sea Salt Company founder on surviving five years of financial loss

Take a saucepan, some seawater and an Aga. Borrow a chemistry student from the local university. Add in two years of research and five years of financial loss. Simmer gently for a decade until you’re left with some sea salt. Oh and a profitable company exporting to 21 countries and supplying the likes of Marks & Spencer.

David Lea-Watson was running a public aquarium in North Wales when he came up with the idea for the Anglesey Sea Salt Company. His love of the area, and the fact that his existing business was only profitable during the summer, encouraged him to look at other ventures that would use local natural resources. Being on the coast, the one thing there was in abundance was salt-heavy seawater.

Salt production

Today, the company’s operation uses a water pump, a vacuum, and crystallising equipment, (once the Queen is payed for her water of course) but David’s first batch of salt was produced a little more crudely.

David took a pan down to the sea and filled in up. Returning home he played around with the salt left after boiling the water to the point of evaporation. The next step was to enlist the services of a local student to teach him the science behind salt composition.

It took two years, and a lot of tweaking, before David felt confident enough to offer the salt to retailers. “I made ten tubes of salt and took them to an international food exhibition in London. I came back with two orders, one from a deli in Knightsbridge, the other from a shop in Wales.”

With the first orders in, David knew he had to start taking the venture more seriously. He’d heard Manchester Business School was looking for projects for their students to work on. With the aquarium still to look after, David had a team in Manchester spend two years researching how to turn the salt production into a scaleable business.

The next step was to find more buyers. David got hold of every UK Yellow Pages directory and started contacting delicatessens.

The big break

Growth was slow. Five years of an escalating overdraft, and losses of £200k ensued, but with revenue from the aquarium and some rigorous financial planning using Sage forecasting software, David was confident the venture would take off eventually.

David cites two things that finally led to the company’s financial turnaround. First was the use of Anglesey Sea Salt on the Two Fat Ladies cookery programme. Second was bringing a local branding company on board to design the packaging.

“We’d gone to other branding companies, but these guys were the first to really understand our USP. Yes our salt is twice as expensive as the competition’s, but we think it’s twice as good.”

With a growing reputation, and a strong brand design, David started impressing. International buyers got on board, as did Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.

The company became profitable in its sixth year, and has been ever since. Turnover still doesn’t top £1m, but David says he’s happy with his ‘global niche brand’.

The aquarium was sold in 2006 to a former employee, leaving David to dedicate his full attention to growing Anglesey.

“We’ve got a queue of investors now, but we don’t want to get on board with someone just looking for a quick profit. We’ll have to be totally happy with them before we give up equity.”

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