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Salt packaging pours on the premium details

Salt packaging pours on the premium details
The Artisan Salt Company brand was meticulously designed in-house by SaltWorks using custom components for Grinders (shown) and two other product lines.

SaltWorks’ custom-engineered new packaging, which took 24 months’ R&D to perfect, is stunning in looks and impressive in function.

SaltWorks’ CEO Mark Zoske set out to reinvent the Woodinville, WA, company’s product packaging for its retail packaged gourmet and specialty sea salt brand, Artisan Salt Company.

“We were complacent about our packaging until about three years ago,” admits Zoske, who then championed the effort to recreate the brand’s gourmet salt packaging aesthetically and functionally for both retailers and consumers:

  • A polycarbonate (PC) salt shaker container that looks and feels like glass, but is durable for repeated everyday use, featuring a transluscent overcap designed and molded with precise tolerances to provide an air-tight seal;
  • A boutique glass jar with sustainably harvested, solid American black walnut lid, features a custom-designed friction-fit silicone sleeve that fits over the undercuts in the bottom of the lid, creating an airtight, vapor-proof seal; and
  • A revolutionary ceramic salt grinder that is infinitely adjustable and incredibly durable. Developed from scratch with a patent-pending design, this marvel of engineering features the same air-tight translucent overcap as the shaker, which is easily removed to refill the container with coarse salt or whole spices for repeated reuse.

Individually and collectively, the packaging is nothing short of gorgeous.

The products debuted at the Specialty Food Association Winter Fancy Food Show in January in San Francisco to high acclaim. "We were thrilled at the remarkable response we received from buyers [there]," says Zoske. "We greatly appreciate customers' enthusiasm for the new packaging.” The buzz from the show has since spread far and wide, he adds.

The introductions culminate several years’ investment of time, R&D, engineering and money.

“When we launched the company 15 years ago, no one knew what gourmet salt meant,” Zoske recalls. The company launched the Artisan Salt Company retail product line in 2005 using stock packaging. This time, however, every aspect was meticulously designed in-house by SaltWorks using custom components.

Perhaps most exemplary of the new-look packaging trio is the Artisan Grinder line.  A brand-new offering from SaltWorks, the grinder had a launch directive to be “the best-ever built-in salt mill,” Zoske says.

That promise meant 18 months’ R&D, a large chunk of which was spent developing the grinder from scratch.

SaltWorks set out to develop from scratch the best salt mill ever, which turned into an 18-month process.

Grinding out the grinder

Zoske, who describes himself as a self-taught engineer, says the project unleashed his inner product designer. “This was super exciting and scary, frustrating and expensive,” he admits. “It was also the first time we developed anything that functioned mechanically, so it was also a giant risk.”

Zoske roped in SaltWorks' lead engineer and two associates to help.

“They typically build and customize salt-breaking and handling machinery,” he points out. “We spent hours and hours on drawings over a six-month period. Then it was time to make it.”

Next, Zoske solicited external help from Detekt Product Design, a global product design, engineering development and prototyping company. That portion took 8 months’ time, resulting in a patent-pending design and a remarkably complex part.

The grinder itself is not made of plastic or metal—plastic isn’t durable and metal doesn’t work with salt, as it can corrode over time, Zoske points out. Instead, he and his engineering team opted to create the grinding mechanism from ceramic.

“Ceramic is expensive, but it was the best material,” he explains. “Ceramic-on-ceramic is 'bulletproof' and will grind anything.”

A view at the breakout drawing of the parts makes the development seem more like rocket science than one would expect for a salt grinder. The assembly of the grinder parts is done by SaltWorks’ dedicated team.

“It’s a whole new way to grind salt,” says Zoske. “In your fingertips is the ability to precisely make any grain size of salt you want, coarse or fine, by simply adjusting the grinding mechanism, which is as easy as twisting to the left (more fine) or to the right (more coarse).”

To grind, the user inverts the container, adjusts the grinder setting and spins the container while holding the cap stationary; the cap also removes easily for refilling.

The overcap’s tight-tolerance seal along the edge of the grinder mechanism assembly that itself affixes tightly over the bottle flange is crucial: Salt and moisture are not friends, according to Zoske.

The previous packaging for the coarse salt was a generic PET bottle that also compelled users to supply their own grinder.

The bottle is now a custom, two-piece injection-molded, BPA-free PC bottle manufactured by an overseas partner. A special factory was set up specifically to produce the container. These arrangements were handled through SaltWorks' partnership with Detekt.

Next: Packaging to “cherish” and two more product lines

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Advanced Design & Manufacturing (ADM) Expo Toronto assembles 5 events—Automation Technology Expo (ATX), PACKEX, PLAST-EX, Design & Manufacturing and Powder & Bulk Solids (PBS)—under one roof May 16-18 in Canada. For more, visit http://admtoronto.com/

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In parallel with the lengthy grinder development, Zoske called on an outside design firm, the Garrigan Lyman Group (GLG), to bring fresh design ideas to the label graphics and design.

 “We set out to create salt containers our customers will cherish,” says Zoske. “We want customers to fall in love with these packages and not tuck them away in the pantry, but instead show them off on the kitchen counter, the dining-room table and even set out atop restaurant tables.”

A lofty target, but one that the packaging has met in every detail.

For example, one aspect that Zoske is especially proud of is a handsome, tamper-evident “strap label” that goes over the top of the overcap on the shaker and grinder jars and across the top of the boutique glass jar wood lid. These labels extend partly down the sides of each container to function as a security seal, and feature intricate artwork with foil-stamped metallic accents and embossing on textured label stock.

Zoske was inspired by premium-end spirits packaging.

“It’s akin to an authentication label found on a bottle of high-end Scotch whisky,” he says. “It highlights how special the product is.”

The security strap design is precisely color-matched to the container labels on all of the products across the three lines. The Grinder and Shaker containers have three additional labels: two smaller front-panel labels and a full-panel back label. The two front labels are separated to showcase the salt, which, as Zoske says, is truly the “star of the show.”

In addition to their good looks, Zoske selected labels that are easily removable to help make the containers sustainably reusable for any salt or even whole spices. The company sells its gourmet salts in bulk quantities, and will introduce a 1-pound pour-spout pouch later this year for easy refill.

The products are filled to volume, depending on density, from 4.2oz to 5.5oz net weight. “Gaps in headspace are okay for potato chips, but are not okay for premium salt,” Zoske notes.

With overcap, the grinder stands 5 inches tall and is 1 ¾ in. square with rounded edges.

The eight-variety Artisan Grinder line that includes Salish, an alderwood smoked sea salt, is set to expand with another four or more products soon. Suggested MSRP is $8.99 to $10.99, depending on the salt variety. The Grinders are available in convenient case pack quantities for wholesale purchase by distributors, grocers and gourmet retailers.

Relaunching reimagined jars and shakers

Introduced along with the Grinder are the Shaker jars. The Shakers (seen above) use the same handsome design scheme as the Grinder line, though the circular die-cut front label has silver metallic artwork with “Flip Top Shaker” instead of copper “Ceramic Grinder” icons. While the overall packaged height with overcap is the same as the Grinder packaging, the Shaker is 1 ¼ in. taller and the overcap is that much shorter. The footprint remains the same. Both the Shaker and Grinder containers were ergonomically designed to fit in retailers' spice rack displays; the square design ensures the jars always face forward for easy merchandising.

The 17-item Shakers retail for $6.99 to $10.99 each, depending on the salt variety. The Shaker jars are also available for wholesale purchase in case box quantities.

Also new is the 15-item line of Artisan Boutique Glass Jars with varieties such as Hiwa Kai, a black Hawaiian-style sea salt. The striking design of the new jar is accentuated by a handsome, sustainably harvested American black walnut wood lid. A specially designed friction-fit silicone sleeve fits over the undercuts in the bottom of the wood lid. It provides a vapor-proof, airtight seal to protect the salt from moisture.

The short and wide thick-walled glass jar is substantially weighty, reflective of its ultra-premium positioning. The profile makes it easy to grab a pinch of salt with a spoon or fingers.

Similar to the Grinders and Shakers, the safety seal strap label extends over the lid, registered to align the metallic captain's wheel accents on the front and back labels. Indicative of the attention to detail, the security seal is perforated so that it tears neatly at the exact point where the lid meets the bottle just as with the overcap on the Grinders bottle. It’s yet another impressive part of a holistic, buttoned-down design and attention to detail across the packaging.

The Artisan Boutique Glass Jar salts retail for $15.99 each across 15 varieties, and are available for wholesale purchase in case box quantities for retailers.

All three of the product lines was specifically designed to be easy to refill for repeated reuse to anchor the brand’s sustainable “Refill. Reuse. Repeat.” messaging.

“Our customers can pass along the jars to their grandkids,” Zoske says, only half kidding.

The lines of Artisan salt products target home cooks and others who appreciate good food, according to Zoske. The products can be found at outlets including gourmet shops and high-end grocery stores, he adds.

“This packaging is unlike what anyone has ever seen before in this or really any other market,” says Zoske. “We expect it will have a significant impact on the spice aisle.”

It’s a deserved result for salt packaging that SaltWorks mined for all it's worth.

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Advanced Design & Manufacturing (ADM) Expo Toronto assembles 5 events—Automation Technology Expo (ATX), PACKEX, PLAST-EX, Design & Manufacturing and Powder & Bulk Solids (PBS)—under one roof May 16-18 in Canada. For more, visit http://admtoronto.com/

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