Ocean Gourmet Salts: Tapping salts of the sea
Treva LindMarch 10th, 2016
A core line of seasonings for Rathdrum-based Ocean Gourmet Salts originates from deep coastal waters.
That’s why an ocean theme remains central to the company’s marketing, despite its headquarters in land-locked North Idaho. After discovering gourmet ocean salts for their own cooking, husband-and-wife owners Clint and Cheryl Bower started the wholesale business one year ago that now sells seasonings to retailers in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas.
Its products include Northwest Rub, with black lava salt and spices; Maui Onion, with dehydrated sweets; Hawaiian Lemon Pepper; Smoked Alder Salt, course sea salt smoked over alder wood; Smoked Cherry Salt, cherry-wood smoked; and Cyprus Lemon, lemon-infused, shaved salt.
While the latter three products originate from a source near the California coast, Ocean Gourmet buys the other three salt-based seasonings from a Hawaiian company, says Clint Bower. The full line caters to fans of cooking and barbecuing.
“We wanted to be unique and have a small line of salts different from other companies,” he says. The Hawaiian company extracts sea water from a depth of 2,000 feet, he adds, “so it’s very clean and clear. It’s the purest ocean water from the mid-Pacific you can find. All of our salts are gluten-free, GMO-free and kosher-certified.”
Ocean Gourmet buys the natural seasonings in bulk sizes and packages its products in spice packets, selling at retail prices that range from $9 to $12.75. Spokane-area retailers carrying them include Kitchen Engine, located in the historic Flour Mill, at 621 W. Mallon; Williams Seafood Market, 2118 N. Ruby; and The Butcher Block, 21724 E. Mission, in Liberty Lake.
Coeur d’Alene-area stores stocking the products are: Tim’s Special Cut Meats, 7397 N. Government Way; Fisherman’s Market & Grill, 215 W. Kathleen; Vonhoff’s Garden Center, 1844 N. Government Way; Heritage Meats, 8827 N. Government Way; and Post Falls’ Quality Stoves & Home Furnishings, 1611 E. Edmonton.
This spring, Ocean Gourmet Salts will start expanding into other markets such as Seattle and Portland, Bower says.
The company also sells directly on its website, oceangourmetsalts.com, but at least 90 percent of sales are on a wholesale basis to stores, Bower says. He adds that the company keeps its online prices level with what retailers offer. “We’re not selling our products online any cheaper than what the public can buy from them.”
Ocean Gourmet Salts recently launched a separate arm of the business selling a $32 specialty gift box with four of its seasonings, aimed at business people such as real estate agents who buy customer gifts. For each box sold, the company donates 10 percent of the revenue to Make-A-Wish Foundation, which fulfills wishes for children who face life-threatening medical conditions.
“Going back to medieval times, giving salt and bread to a homeowner was a significant gift because it offered food, and salt to preserve,” Bower says. “There is a big market for gift baskets not only for the real estate industry, but many industries.”
He and his wife are currently their company’s only employees. The Bowers, who live in Coeur d’Alene, say they want to stay active with a business that follows their shared enjoyment of good foods and cooking, and as a change from the past 45 years of owning wood-related companies. He is 68 years old, and she is 62.
“Cheryl is an extremely good cook; I’m pretty good at barbecuing,” says Clint Bower, who has a custom-made barbecue grill.
Adds his wife, “We wanted to do something completely 360 degrees different from the woods business.”
In 2009, the couple sold their previous business, Braided Accents Inc., a manufacturer of high-end wood mouldings for houses and restaurants. The Bowers still own a 25,000-square-foot building at 14028 N. Ohio St. in Rathdrum that Braided Accents had occupied. Today, Ocean Gourmet occupies about 1,000 square feet there, while their son operates a wholesale radio-control hobby supply business in remaining space.
The Bowers repackage the bulk salts and seasonings in a separate Food and Drug Administration-approved kitchen facility, leased at an occasional hourly rate from another Rathdrum business, Salsa Factory.
For other operations, Clint Bower mainly handles sales and marketing, and his wife handles the business accounting. But they both cook regularly with the products at home. As a cooking enthusiast, Cheryl Bower says more people today are interested in culinary arts.
“There so many people in this day and age who are interested not only in cooking, but in food,” she says. “I think people are wanting to be healthier. This is not table salt. It’s unique in quality. Tonight, I’m making fettuccini alfredo with grilled shrimp and Hawaiian Lemon Pepper. It’s amazing.”
She also likes to use the Cyprus Lemon for roasted asparagus. “You crunch it in your hand and sprinkle just a little bit.”
Clint Bower has a specialty prime rib recipe using Northwest Rub.
“Most of our salts are more for food preparation rather than as finishing salts,” he says.
He first learned of gourmet salts during a 2011 visit to Wisconsin where a steakhouse’s gift shop sold smoked salt. After a brand they bought online disappeared, they widened their research and sampled salts from around the world. That’s when they discovered supply sources that inspired Ocean Gourmet Salts.
Retailers typically purchase an initial 35-packet offer that comes with a 12-inch-square retail display holding 18 of the bags, with the rest available for restocking. The Bowers are considering an eventual switch in packaging from pouches to seasoning shaker jars, but that step would require buying equipment and likely a move.
“The long-term goal is to go to a different facility with a kitchen,” Clint Bower says.
Nearer term, they plan to seek out more Inland Northwest retailers as customers. The first year required focus on marketing, branding, and developing a website and social media, Bower adds.
“We wanted to make sure that we walk before we run,” he says. “By the end of March, we will be prepared to move into other markets. We still want to work on our own market, too.”
Restaurants also could provide another avenue, he adds. “We would sell to restaurants in bulk. I’ve just worked that ever so slightly, but the restaurant industry has a huge potential.”