XpressInside February 2006
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Putting the focus on a Business SA member

A taste of the salt making business

Imagine running a business where Mother Nature supplies everything you need and your markets never dry up.


Cheetham's snow-white salt fields at Price are used to make table salt

That’s the fortunate reality for Australia’s largest salt producer Cheetham Salt.

"We’re lucky because we take our raw material from the ocean and that’s not going to evaporate any time soon," said Cheetham Salt’s SA operations manager Roger Ward.

"On top of that, the majority of our work is also done by the sun – and another great thing is that everyone needs salt."

Salt production, which occurs at Cheetham’s major refineries at Dry Creek and Price on the Yorke Peninsula, is also about "location, location, location."

Mr Ward said South Australia is renowned as one of the best places in the world to produce high-grade table and industrial salt.

"We live in the best State to grow salt because the climate is perfect - low rainfall, warm weather and plenty of wind," he said.


Salt crystalises at the Dry Creek site

The only challenge is that salt-making takes time - the company’s Dry Creek site has more than 4,000 hectares of evaporation ponds where seawater takes about two years to travel through a series of concentration ponds before it can be harvested as salt.

While the company produces about 1.1 million tonnes of salt each year in South Australia, Cheetham Salt also exports packaged products to Japan, which has developed a liking for South Australia’s clean, unspoilt salt.

"We successfully moved into the Japanese retail market by quite deliberately positioning our salt as a pure and natural product from our crystal clear waters," Mr Ward said.

With such a strong reliance on natural elements, Cheetham Salt is heavily focussed on the environment and upholds strict environmental standards.

"A salt field is a living ecosystem, so any pollution affects the health of the field and the quality of salt," he said.


Salt is harvested once a year

"We even reuse our biproducts by exporting Magnesium Chloride into Asia for making tofu."

One of Cheetham’s major customers is Penrice that receives industrial salt in the form of brine that is pumped from Dry Creek to Osborne.

Penrice uses about 600,000 tonnes of industrial salt a year for its soda ash production and sold the Dry Creek site to Cheetham last year.

Cheetham Salt now has 12 salt fields around Australia including in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia as well as interests in New Zealand and Indonesia.

However this Business SA member is looking at even further international growth.

"Just like drying salt, it’s a slow process but we are working on it," he said.