Sea Salts of Hawaii diversifies amid Covid, acquires Kona salt farm – Pacific Business News – The Business Journals
When Pacific Business News last spoke with Sandra Gibson, the owner of Sea Salts of Hawaii, in 2018, the company had grown 20% since opening in 2012 from sales of its flavored gourmet cooking salts sourced from Kona Sea Salts, a wholesale salt farm on Hawaii Island.
In a model that worked well pre-pandemic, Sea Salts of Hawaii’s flavored salts were sold in many forms including gift packs, samplers and wedding favors that catered to tourists, engaged couples and those hosting corporate events — a group of consumers that all but disappeared when Covid came to the Islands.
“The first three months [of 2020] were actually pretty good months for us,” Gibson said in a recent interview with Pacific Business News. “After March we completely dropped off, we went down to making less than 10% of our original business sales.”
In 2019, Sea Salts of Hawaii and Kona Sea Salts made a combined $600,000 in revenue, but in 2020 both companies made only about $150,000.
“Really during the pandemic, I would say that the vast majority of our sales went away,” she said.
Gibson also told PBN that during that time Gibson and her small team of two full-time employees at Sea Salts of Hawaii decided to put their heads together to find a way to improve the business and make up for some of its losses.
This included obtaining an Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a grant from the City and County of Honolulu for $10,000 each, a PPP loan for $29,000, and a Holomua Small Business Grant from Hawaii Island County for $8,000.
The flavored salt company also made the bold decision to acquire Kona Sea Salts, its supplier, in July and is in the middle of improvements to the seven-acre farm so that it can double as a venue for tours and weddings — creating a new revenue stream for the newly joint companies.
“[The local and federal aid] was really helpful because we were paying salaries and paying full leases for two locations,” she said. “We’ve also made a very substantial investment into the facility and to make about $200,000 in repairs to the farm, and we’re nowhere near finished.”
“From a revenue standpoint [the pandemic] was a disaster of course, but I think we used the time well because we did some repair work and renovation, redesigned some of our packaging, built out the site for farm tours, and built out the private bridal lounge, ocean front wedding ceremony area and oceanfront reception area, as well as a lounge for the groom and the groom’s party,” Gibson told PBN.
“For us we were really very busy. It was time well spent on that side.”
On the product side of the business, Gibson says that the company pushed to create more products that could be used by a larger audience of consumers, and put more energy behind its online sales due to a decrease in in-store purchases from retailers that carry its products.
“We kind of bunkered down and put our creative hats on and came up with a new line of bath salts around the same time we got Kona Sea Salts last summer,” Gibson said. “We also recently released an ocean minerals product a few weeks ago and a mineral supplement for drinking water that remineralizes purified water.”
In efforts to further scale the company, Gibson recently joined local product business accelerator Mana Up’s sixth cohort of Isle entrepreneurs.
“I’m looking forward to the mentorship of the Mana up team because, as a small business, larger companies have all these resources like social media teams/sales teams, etc.,” Gibson said. “As a small business owner you’re trying your best at all these things. I think that Mana up people are a good fit because they’re very focused on Hawaii brands and products being represented properly.”
“I’d like to do a good job at launching our new products and have the salt farm be a presence on the Big Island for people to host events,” said Gibson, who donates 1% of sales from both Sea Salts of Hawaii and Kona Sea Salts to Papahanaumokuakea Marine Debris Project. “We’d like to make the farm a place for both kamaaina and visitors to share and make part of their home.”