FAMILY-owned importer Peacock Salt is breaking away from its industrial heritage to branch out into gourmet seasoning as it looks to create a £1 million offshoot.
Under managing director Gregorie Marshall, the fifth generation of his family to run the business, Peacock has set up sister company Salt House to cash in on a growing demand for speciality foods.
It is offering more than 40 varieties from around the world, ranging from Hawaiian Hot Black Lava and Fleur de Sel to Cornish Sea Salt and cherry-flavoured Iburi Shio from Japan.
“Foodies have different types of oils in their kitchen from all around the world, and each has a distinct flavour,” Marshall said. “It is the same with salt – they are all very different, and they all have a very different effect on the food.”
Formally launched earlier this month at the Specialty & Fine Food Fair in London, Salt House is targeting chefs, mixologists and baristas. Sales this year are expected to be in the region of £100,000, and Marshall hopes to be turning over £1m within four years.
This would be just a fraction of Peacock’s annual sales, which have ranged from £24m to £48m during the last four years depending on the severity of winter and resulting demand for road salt. However, it would benefit the overall group by helping to level out the seasonality of the business.
“If we can break even in the summer, it makes our job a hell of a lot easier,” Marshall said.
Established in 1874, Peacock is the UK’s largest salt importer. It deals in cosmetic and industrial salts, but the bulk of its business is driven by the fight to keep the roads clear during the winter.
From its base at the North Harbour in Ayr – where the company has been headquartered for the last 11 years – Peacock imports anywhere between 100,000 and 650,000 tonnes of salt annually.
Through this it has built up knowledge not only of ocean trade routes, but also salting processes such as the ancient Japanese method of trickling sea water down bamboo stems or the Icelandic use of geysers to evaporate water.
Marshall, a self-confessed foodie, said these different methods produce a wide variety of salts with distinct characteristics.
“Whether it is the charcoal-washed infusion of Hawaiian Black Lava Sea Salt, the warm sweet and crisp notes of smoked Welsh Sea Salt, or the full and hearty taste of Japanese Sea Salt from the volcanic Oshima Island, it is amazing to be able to appreciate the wonderful variety out there and how it can truly enhance your food,” he said.
Marshall trained as a ski instructor in Canada and taught in Austria before training as an architect and working in that industry for five years.
He joined Peacock full-time in 2003 and became managing director earlier this year.