The story behind the specialty sea salt supplier to America
SaltWorks is obsessed with sea salt, and that passion has catalyzed tremendous growth for the company.
Founded and based near Seattle, SaltWorks supplies premium-grade specialty salts to wholesale, retail, and consumer markets throughout the world. The company was established in 2001 by Mark Zoske, CEO, and Naomi Novotny, president, to facilitate access to the world’s highly diverse supply of mineral-rich salt varieites.
To learn more about SaltWorks’ roots and recent developments, we reached out to Mark Zoske, founder and CEO of the company.
Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: How did SaltWorks get its start?
Mark Zoske: My passion (and, quite frankly, obsession) for sea salt started in 2000, when I first experienced the delicate and decadent flavor and texture of French fleur de sel—often referred to as “the caviar of salt.” One taste was all it took to change my life forever. In 2001, I started SaltWorks after learning about the varieties and benefits of authentic, unrefined sea salt. I started very small, launching SaltWorks out of a spare bedroom. Over the next three years, I spent nearly every waking hour building the SaltWorks website and educating myself about all types of salt and the salt industry. Our original wholesale website sold bulk salt directly to consumers and businesses worldwide. There were no investors, and I was putting 100 percent of the revenue back into the company. Nobody thought it would work (including my parents), but I was committed to growing the business and providing a superior quality salt that exceeded industry expectations. Today, nearly 20 years later, SaltWorks is the largest gourmet salt company in the world. SaltWorks is headquartered in Woodinville, WA, and is run from our state-of-the-art, climate-controlled factory and warehouse that is large enough to store eight million pounds of salt.
DJP: What makes SaltWorks unique as a supplier of salt to the snack and bakery industry?
MZ: We do things completely different from any other salt company. We always have. We strive for perfection in every aspect of the process. Most people wouldn’t realize or care about the thousands of nuanced details that go into all-natural salt. We have a team of 120 smart, well-trained, and dedicated employees that take every single variable into account. We all work together to ensure we are constantly scrutinizing and perfecting every detail, from where and how the salt is harvested, to the moment the customer receives their salt. The SaltWorks team has complete control of the entire process. Every aspect of how it is processed has major effects on quality, flavor, and even food safety.
At SaltWorks, we source our salt from the purest water sources around the globe. We do as little processing as possible to maintain the quality and integrity of this mineral-rich, essential resource. Once harvested, it is processed using exclusive techniques and equipment created and engineered in-house. Our proprietary Optically Clean Technology analyzes cascading sheets of salt crystals and photographs each individual grain using high-definition cameras, comparing them to color and quality specifications instantaneously. Utilizing customized optical color sorters, sifters, aspirators, rare-earth magnets, and metal detectors, insoluble or unwanted materials such as rocks, shells, clay, sand, and even visually unappealing salt crystals are identified and ejected with a single blast of air. The end result is pristine and unadulterated salt that is as natural as the day it was harvested.
I’ve been personally examining salt for the last 20 years. Truly, if even one crystal doesn’t meet our strict quality standards, it’s not leaving our facility. I believe it is our attention to detail, best in industry customer service, and 20 years of delivering salt that surpasses our customer’s expectations, that really sets us apart. We never stop pushing for greater efficiencies and new product innovations. We are able to supply snack and bakery manufacturers the best-quality sea salt in a range of grain sizes, textures, and even flavors at the lowest possible price. We also work closely with our customers to identify the best salt for their particular needs.
DJP: Why has SaltWorks seen such strong growth over the past two decades?
MZ: It’s a combination of things. SaltWorks is the most trusted supplier of sea salt. Customers know that SaltWorks will take care of them, no matter what.
As the industry evolves and consumers continue to demand transparency and cleaner ingredients, manufacturers are rethinking their current ingredients and moving away from refined salt and toward all-natural sea salt. Consumers are more adventurous with the foods they eat and expect more options, which is why our Fusion line has done really well. Whether its Black Garlic Salt or Sriracha Salt, one simple ingredient can add a punch of flavor to food.
I also think it has to do with the way we do things. We are committed to sourcing and supplying the highest-quality salt available. We are constantly looking for ways to improve and make our products even better, whether its developing new technology and equipment or experimenting with new flavors.
For example, we recently returned to the drawing board when we realized our smoked salt could be even better and produced in a cleaner way. Our team spent more than a year researching the latest smoking techniques and technology to create the best smoked salt ever. We invested over $2 million to build custom smoking equipment and a dedicated state-of-the-art smoking facility. Our proprietary technology produces the safest and highest-quality smoked salts in the world. We never use sawdust, bark, pellets, or liquid smoke. Nothing is artificial. It’s just our all-natural, high-quality sea salt and authentic real wood smoke.
All of these things combined have been key influences in our success. This year, SaltWorks is expected to generate as much as $30 million in revenue and sell approximately 35 million pounds of salt.
DJP: What was the inspiration for the recently released line of smoked sea salts?
MZ: The growing clean-label trend and demand for big, bold flavors inspired us to review our line of smoked salts. We knew we could make it better. After a year of research and investing $2 million, we developed SaltWorks’ Perfect Smoke Technology. We use real wood hand-selected for superior flavor and aroma profiles, premium salts harvested from the world’s cleanest oceans, and proprietary ultra-clean cold smoking techniques to produce exceptional smoked salts. The wood is debarked and custom-cut at a dedicated sawmill before it arrives at SaltWorks’ in-house smoking facility in Woodinville, WA, where it is kiln-dried and stored in a humidor set to the perfect humidity level. There is nothing artificial about SaltWorks smoked salts. We don’t use liquid smoke, artificial chemicals or inferior materials such as bark, chips, pellets, or sawdust, all of which are never used in our smoking process.
DJP: What are some recommended uses for these smoked salts in snack and bakery products?
MZ: Our new Smoked Salts will elevate the flavor of everything from chips, crackers, nuts, and popcorn to soft-baked pretzels and bagels. We work with a lot of bakery and snack brands and are excited to see the innovative ways they integrate the new salt.
DJP: What’s next for SaltWorks?
MZ: We’re always working on new things. Right now, we are developing a line around a cold water sea salt that we plan to launch later this year. We have become the leader in ingredient sea salt in the U.S. and have several innovations in the works that we believe will make a huge impact on the industry. We look forward to continued partnerships and the path ahead as America’s Sea Salt Company.