‘Life, with a pinch of salt’ captures artisan flavour

Irish Atlantic Sea Salt business model is built on successful and sustainable production methods by a West Cork company, writes Ray Ryan.
‘Life, with a pinch of salt’ captures artisan flavour

A BLOG title for an award-winning company located in the rugged beauty of the Beara Peninsula in West Cork cleverly captures the essence of the innovative enterprise.

“Life, with a pinch of salt” is the catchy blog title on the website of Irish Atlantic Sea Salt, formed in 2009 by the O’Neill family in a region widely recognised for its wholesome artisan food.

The company was set up to develop and produce the first range of Irish Atlantic organic sea salt using sustainable production methods.

It took the family some time to develop and perfect a process that blends age old salt making methods with energy efficient techniques.

The natural resources available for the process are treated with great care by the company and the production causes no adverse effects on the local marine ecology and environment Over the past year, Irish Atlantic Sea Salt has made remarkable progress in producing and marketing their products which contain over 50 natural trace elements.

Headed by Michael and Aileen O’Neill, it has a new production facility at Cahermore, developed with support from West Cork Enterprise and Cork County Council.

The company’s pure and natural products are available in 300 retail outlets in Ireland and 50 in France.

And the O’Neills’ are now targeting the lucrative British food service market as well as distribution in the United States and other countries.

The company, which processes one tonne of sea salt each week, hopes that 80% of its market revenues will come from overseas by 2015.

Boosting the expanding business is a string of top awards won at regional, national and international levels. Irish Atlantic Sea Salt was chosen as the overall local company of 2012 by West Cork Enterprise.

WCE chief executive Michael Hanley put that success in context at the time when he said it is not easy to set up a business these days and even harder to grow a business to its full potential.

“Michael and Aileen have proven that with a great idea it is possible to grow a strong business. It is no accident that businesses such as Irish Atlantic Salt thrive. Dedication and determination drives a business to success,” he said.

Irish Atlantic Salt was chosen for four awards at Great Taste 2013 to add to a previous success in 2012.

“We were hoping the quality of our Irish salt products would be recognised at this year’s Great Taste Awards but we hadn’t expected them to be quite so successful,” said Aileen.

Two weeks ago when the company won the entrepreneurial category at the high profile Bord Bia Food and Drinks Awards in Dublin.

“It was fantastic,” said Michael, after he and Aileen were presented with the award at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham by Agriculture, Food and Marine Minister Simon Coveney.

Michael said they went to the ceremony delighted to have been chosen as one of 21 companies short listed for awards across various categories and never expected to win.

“We were absolutely delighted to have been chosen as the winner of the entrepreneurial award. It is validation of a lot of hard work, done by a lot of people over the past few years,” he said.

Bringing a national food award back to Beara was a great joy to all concerned at Irish Atlantic Sea Salt, which has Organic Trust status.

Michael O’Neill has spent over 15 years fishing national and international waters and is an expert in the seafood industry.

But the idea for producing Irish sea salt came from his late father Bernie, who believed the high quality waters of the West Cork coast could be utilised more.

He encouraged Michael and Aileen to pursue the idea and helped them during the lengthy process of finding the right production technique for Irish salt.

The O’Neills’ did some research and found that sea salt was produced in quite a number of countries but not in Ireland.

They also discovered that sea salt was being imported into Ireland and decided that this offered the opportunity for some import substitution.

“We knew that we had excellent water quality and could produce very high quality sea salt. We saw this as a unique selling point,” Michael later recalled Finding the right recipe and technique did not come easy and Michael and Aileen, at times, were tempted to give up.

But they persevered, discovered the perfect production process, and launched Irish Atlantic Sea Salt in 2010 at Shop — Ireland’s food, drink, retail and hospitality event.

Bernie O’Neill, who played such a pivotal role in developing the idea, sadly passed away in December 2010 but his legacy continues with the company’s success.

Michael and Aileen O’Neill are extremely enthusiastic about the future of their young award-winning innovative company.

It grew out of an idea discussed around the kitchen table, and is now poised for further expansion as a result of increasing sales at home and abroad.

* www.irishatlanticsalt.ie

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