A few years ago, salt was a lowly kitchen staple - always to hand, but rarely at the forefront of one's mind. But, in the days of Delia, Jamie and Nigella, the humble mineral is big business. Pure sea salt is part of the sermon preached by high-profile cooks, an idea that, in 1998, Alison and David Lea-Wilson sought to capitalise on.
The Lea-Wilsons launched the Anglesey Sea Salt Company - the first salt producer on the island since Roman times - into a market dominated by Maldon sea salt from Essex. Anglesey's top-quality salt gained the Lea-Wilsons a foothold in the sector but, to expand, they had to go beyond Britain. This is where the internet came in. 'We were selling to high-end food outlets and consumers,' says David, 'but we'd always intended to go after a global market.' Their web site, www.seasalt.co.uk, was launched in June 2001, and an e-commerce facility was introduced in last April. Sales rose by 80% over the past year, of which the web site accounted for half. The Lea-Wilsons predict a further 80% sales increase this year, including another substantial proportion via online business.
'Swedish customers now spend more than pounds 1,000 a week with us, and Californians spend more on postage than product,' says David. Not content with hurting rivals by international expansion, his salt has been used by Buckingham Palace since the Queen tasted it at a jubilee dinner. Now that really is rubbing salt into the wound.