Indian conglomerate Tata is probably best known in the UK for its ownership of Jaguar Land Rover. But closer to home in the North West its chemicals division also owns British Salt which produces around half of the UK’s pure salt from its factory in Middlewich, Cheshire.
Until recently British Salt was primarily a B2B company, but its Indian owner was keen to expand its reach into the UK consumer market and mirror the success of its Tata Salt operation in India, where its packaged iodised salt is the biggest salt brand in the country.
Iodine, which is found naturally in milk, eggs and seafood, is known to have particularly strong health benefits. In particular it is regarded as essential for the growth of children, cognitive development, thyroid health and hormone production.
For instance studies have shown that the intelligence of children can be affected by an inadequate intake of iodine by their mothers during pregnancy, and one study found that two thirds of pregnant women in the UK have some degree of iodine deficiency.
With this in mind British Salt was keen to launch a salt product fortified with iodine, and turned to academics at Alliance MBS to help research the market and wider attitudes towards such a product. As such it began a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the specific end aim of launching a salt product in the retail market before the 30-month KTP was completed.
Today, as the KTP nears completion, the company has already begun selling the product via Amazon, while in future months it is meeting retail buyers with a view to getting the product onto supermarket shelves.
The KTP has been headed by Elle Perschke who, having recently completed a Masters in Marketing at Alliance MBS, was brought on board by British Salt and appointed Brand Development Manager at Tata Chemicals Europe.
She says the KTP has really delivered on its key objectives. “It’s been a fantastic partnership and to get the product to market before completion of the KTP has been a great achievement.”
Perschke says a key underlying issue identified by the KTP project was that there remains very little awareness about iodine nutrition in the UK.
“We studied the knowledge of iodine amongst nine focus groups conducted throughout the UK. Only 18 out of the 58 participants said iodine sounded familiar, and only three participants knew iodine was linked to overall health. Participants who were mothers also could not recall being given advice about iodine in their diet when they were pregnant.”
She adds that there is no easy way for individuals to discover whether they are iodine deficient. “In many countries, such as the US, China and European countries, table salt is fortified with iodine in order to improve the nutritional status of the population. In other countries, such as India, table salt is similarly fortified and the government has sponsored an awareness campaign on iodised salt so that consumers can make an informed choice. However here in the UK iodised salt is not widely available.”
Perschke says the KTP project provided an opportunity to put iodine nutrition on a platform of corporate social responsibility in order to raise awareness of this pressing issue within the UK. “We hope by raising awareness that we can open a conversation about iodine nutrition and prevent future health issues associated with iodine deficiency. One of the big challenges we faced with launching this product was getting over concerns that ‘salt is bad for you’ and we’ve done this by collating existing research into the benefits of iodised salt.”
Hongwei He, Professor of Marketing at Alliance MBS, says the KTP has also brought tangible benefits from an academic perspective.
“The focus groups really helped us understand consumer attitudes today and reaffirmed the different types of grocery shoppers that exist. The data that Elle has collected will now help us carry out a major longitudinal study into how companies can make the transition from selling in B2B markets to B2C markets. This will be an excellent case study of how a company should approach this challenge and will offer guidance for other companies in other sectors.”
Gary Davies, Emeritus Professor at Alliance MBS, who also worked on the KTP, adds: “This is simply a great KTP story. To take a product from concept to reality in such a short space of time is amazing.”