Vancouver Island Salt Co. had an unusual start after a friend bet a case of beer and challenged Founder, Andrew Shepherd, a chef in the Cowichan Valley, that he could not harvest sea salt from the local water. Not only did Andrew win the case of beer, but he also won a highly successful business.
Hard Work Pays Dividends
Andrew’s journey wasn’t an easy one. He spent three long years, getting up every two hours throughout the night to tend to his salt ovens. But it was his belief in his product that gave his the strength and determination to persevere, and create Canada’s first sea salt harvestry. Now, just five years later, there are seven or eight sea salt harvestries following in his footsteps in Canada.
Something he sees as his greatest achievement.
“What I’ve started is way bigger than me or the Vancouver Island Salt Co.,” he says. “And that makes me amazed, proud and successful.”
The Ever Evolving Product
Creating an entire industry from a small down on Vancouver Island is no mean feat. Being first may mean that you have no competition, but it also means you have no template for success, no prior product knowledge that will help you get the customer what they want the first time. You have to discover everything yourself. Which is both exciting and challenging.
“Every time you think you’re about to turn the corner and it’ll get easier, you turn the corner and find another corner to turn,” says Andrew. But, he quickly learned the importance of improving his product to help his business grow and evolve.
Award Winning Idea
Over the years, the Vancouver Island Salt Co. has garnered the attention of the press. However, it was the 2014 contest called The Challenge, sponsored by The Globe and Mail and TELUS that suddenly put them on the whole country’s radar. Competing against over 1,000 other Canadian small businesses, Andrew successfully one the $100,000 award, which he used to help double his productions and find international distributors.
Andrew’s entrepreneurial journey has been one that has been powered by his community, both in his home town of Cobble Hill and by the BC Food Industry, who he says “wanted this to work as much as I have.” Although casually joining groups and interacting on social media, he says it’s his core community that has supported and guided him over the last five years. “BC is an unbelievable place to start a business,” he says.
His sights are now rooted farther afield. With a growing export business, his mission is to become a global icon in the sea salt world. “I want Vancouver Island Salt Co. to be widely recognized as the best sea salt in the world,” he says. “It’s a lofty goal, but no one ever got anywhere without setting goals.”