Salt of the Earth

In Egypt, an industry veteran learns the workings of salt supply

Egypt possesses a mysterious aura. Maybe it’s the combination of the culture and the people. Most definitely, it’s the food. All I know is I keep going back for more, and not just for the most magnificent rock salt for my snow management businesses.

Then and now
A lot has happened during my 30-plus years in the snow and ice industry. When I first started, I would purchase salt by the bag from a nearby hardware store. As my company grew, we would buy bulk product by the truckload. By 2010, we had grown so large that I started traveling with my own vessel to New Orleans to fulfill our clients’ ice management needs. That’s when I got hooked.

I liked the autonomy of selecting my own salt firsthand. Intuition plays a big part in my current role as a major salt supplier throughout the Northeast and Midwest river systems. I now get to use my instincts to deal with a lot of unknowns. I am comfortable in this setting, and I embrace the challenge of what it takes to excel on this side of the business.

In 2014, we purchased 10,000 tons of quality rock salt from Egypt for the first time. A product sample was sent to me prior to ordering the shipment, and that was my “a-ha!” moment. It was unlike anything we had ever purchased. Egyptian salt has a finer consistency than North American salt. It doesn’t clump and has less than 1% moisture so it is much easier to handle and doesn’t freeze when the weather turns cold. I can still remember the texture of the salt, as well as the feeling that something bigger was about to happen.

It’s a whole new world now that I am more involved in the supply side of the business. I enjoy working with foreign countries like Egypt and the associated variables in terms of price fluctuations due to fuel and logistical costs, tariffs, exchange rate of the dollar, government agencies, contracts and more. The company is aligned with savvy and passionate individuals who run the logistical operations and customer service.

An Egyptian primer
Egypt is on the northeastern corner of Africa and ranks in the top 30 largest countries in the world. Egyptians wholeheartedly enjoy food-based gatherings with a roundtable family atmosphere. Belly dancing is a popular form of entertainment, and the official language is Arabic. Everything — from the downtown market in Cairo to dealing with vendors — is a negotiation.

The rich history and culture are marvels to be cherished. The people are very kind and giving, and relationship building is the foundation of international business. I have already built strong, deep relationships with our suppliers. It is a long trek to get there (more than 20 hours of travel coupled with an eight-hour time difference), and the only thing certain is uncertainty in the Middle East. I enjoy change, which is why I think I am so drawn to this land.

My latest salt odyssey
My company has personally sourced salt worldwide from Brazil to Egypt. All of our product is third-party inspected and certified clean specifically for loading salt. The salt gets tested multiple times, both before it is loaded onto a vessel at our Egypt yard and when it is received in the United States. It’s an intricate process with countless moving parts.

We work with many transportation methods, including laker vessels (they carry smaller loads of up to 22,000 U.S. tons of bulk salt into the Great Lakes from overseas), as well as larger ocean vessels that transport approximately 50,000 to 60,000 U.S. tons of bulk salt into deep water ports. The self-loading vessels have cranes and grabs to load and offload the bulk salt. The smaller and very large vessels have no equipment onboard for loading or offloading bulk salt, so shore equipment (such as shore cranes, conveyors, and floating cranes) is used.

My journey to date has been filled with plenty of life-changing memories and awe-inspiring people. I’m looking forward to continuing this sweet and salty experience for many years to come.

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