New innovator: Irish Biosalt

Challenge lay in making a salt/seaweed product that tasted the same as traditional ordinary salt

John Thornton: “Wherever ordinary salt was used in the past, Irish Biosalt can be substituted with obvious health benefits.”

John Thornton: “Wherever ordinary salt was used in the past, Irish Biosalt can be substituted with obvious health benefits.”

Mon, Jul 28, 2014, 01:00

Salt has long been a nutritional bad boy implicated in serious health problems such as high blood pressure and stroke. But it makes food taste good and people struggle to do without it.

Irish Biosalt is the brainchild of engineer-turned-entrepreneur John Thornton, who has developed a new low sodium salt product combined with kelp seaweed to create a highly nutritious alternative to traditional table salt.

Thornton spent 20 years as an engineer with General Electric working on gas turbine installations all over the world. He returned to Ireland 10 years ago and began working with windfarm solutions company Windtranz in Ballyheigue, Co Kerry.

Having scaled back his involvement with Windtranz in recent years, Thornton decided he would like to start a business with a local twist.

Living beside the sea, he was aware of the health properties of seaweed and had been using it in ground form at home for years, adding it to pizza toppings and other dishes. In late 2011, he began looking at how he could incorporate Irish seaweed into mainstream food.

Thornton’s research showed that consumers have an appetite for healthier alternatives, but only if they taste good, are easy to use and hit the right price point. This meant coming up with a product with enough volume potential to drive economies of scale.

It also had to be based around a foodstuff that would act as a natural carrier for the ground-up kelp.

“I eventually decided on salt despite its negative health associations because I saw an opportunity to produce a unique product that combined low sodium salt [68 per cent lower in sodium than regular table salt] and local seaweed,” he says. “The advantage was the obvious market gap. The challenge lay in overcoming the technical hurdles entailed in making a salt/seaweed product that tasted the same as ordinary salt and had a comparable price.”

Thornton linked up with researchers at Bord Iascaigh Mhara in Clonakilty to work on the technical side of the product development, while Bullseye marketing advised him on bringing the product to market. He received financial support from Kerry Enterprise Board and estimates the development costs to date at €14,000. The product, which will go on sale in Kerry in October and nationwide in early 2015, will be distributed by Musgraves. It will cost about €3 per 250g pack.

While the retail market is Thornton’s first stop, he believes the biggest sales potential for Irish Biosalt is within the food industry. “It is suitable for use in a wide range of foods, from breads, cereals and ready-made meals to baked beans,” he says. “Wherever ordinary salt was used in the past, Irish Biosalt can be substituted with obvious health benefits.”

With all of the necessary testing and certification complete, the first batch of Irish Biosalt is about to go into production. Manufacturing is being subcontracted to begin with, but Thornton’s plan is to build his own production facility in Kerry, which will create eight jobs when fully up and running.

Flavour without guilt

“It has taken about 2½ years to bring this product to this point,” he says. “There is a lot involved when you’re starting from scratch but I believe we have a good product with a strong nutritional profile that will be widely accepted in markets such as the UK and US. Awareness of salt-related medical problems is growing, as is awareness of nutrient supplements in foods. Irish Biosalt ticks the box as a salt replacement and as a functional food. What we offer is all of the flavour and none of the guilt.”

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