Small Business Stories: Meet Jess Helgeson of the See Salt Taste Company
Updated: Jan 25
Small Business Stories goes behind the scenes with creators – like you – who are building brands in today's dynamic marketplace.
Jess Helgeson, Co-Founder of the See Salt Taste Company, shares her journey from food blogger to small business owner (and finishing salt evangelist!) – along with the key ingredient to her brand and business success.
Click here to watch the full interview! (please note this video was recorded prior to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines).
When I first met Terri and Jess Helgeson, the effortlessly chic mother-daughter duo behind the See Salt Taste Company, I was immediately charmed by their easy-going nature. Their whimsical, French-themed booth at Phoenix Flea had caught my eye, and I found myself intrigued by their beautifully packaged line of finishing salts.
I knew I had to get the story behind this brand!
Jess graciously invited me into her home where we sat down together at her kitchen table and talked finishing salt, intentionality, and how she and her mom have built a stand-out brand over the past five years. This is their story…
Let's start from the beginning. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you and your mom to start the See Salt Taste Company?
I grew up in a household of just me, my mom, and my sister.
There wasn't always a ton in the fridge, but whatever we had, my mom would always present in a really beautiful way – she would always plate really intentionally, and she would always finish it with a pinch of great salt. I didn't even realize that that was an unfamiliar thing to other people. It just was a part of the culture in my house.
We started out as a food blog that we brought to life through video. Because it was second nature to us, we always finished-off every recipe with a pinch of this great salt. Almost immediately, we started to get feedback from people, saying, "What is that? and why are you doing that? and tell me more.”
And that's when I realized that this was a foreign idea to a lot of folks.
So, we started dreaming of someday being able to have our own finishing salt line.
It wasn't too much longer that we were able to private-label the same fleur de sel (flower of salt) my mom always had in her kitchen.
It's a French sea salt out of Ile de Ré, France. And in my opinion, it’s the highest-quality
and the best-tasting finishing salt you can get.
For non-foodies like me, what makes a finishing salt different from regular table salt? What are the benefits?
A finishing salt is a salt that you put on at the end.
Typically, a finishing salt is used to enhance the incredible natural flavors from your kitchen. It's going to give them that pop – whether it be a watermelon salad, your eggs, or a beautiful steak off the grill. Finishing off with a pinch of great salt is going to bring out all those natural flavors.
What makes this particular salt different from table salt is that table salt has been refined. It's been heated to high temperatures. It's been bleached. It has a chemical in it that's an anti-caking agent that’s no good for us.
Our salt is naturally harvested salt, which means it has actually been bleached from the sun and dried by the wind.
What that means to you is that you're left with all the minerals and electrolytes your body truly needs, that come naturally from the ocean. We’re talking iodine and magnesium – incredible things that a registered dietician can go into more of why we need these.
Our bodies are made of salt. We have to have salt. And, if you're eating clean and simply, and finishing off with a pinch of great salt, that should never be a problem for any of us. It fosters a great lifestyle.
Can you share the inspiration behind your brand name, See Salt Taste?
Well, obviously it's a cute play on words.
And, we believe you eat with your eyes. Visually, it's such a powerful thing to have the beautiful colors on your plate and to have a nice crisp, white plate with the intentionality of the dish that you've made.
So, seeing is really important.
The other thing that's actually come about as years have passed, kind of serendipitously, is my mom has a macular degeneration of her eyes. And so sometimes I wonder if that actually, unbeknown to us, has now given another meaning to the name.
What's the core idea that lives at the heart of the See Salt brand? What's does your brand stand for, or promise, that no other brand can promise?
I've thought a lot about this over the years, and one thing that really comes to mind is quality over quantity.
When I think about our salt being a French salt, and I think about France and I think about the way they live – it’s intriguing, right?
It’s intriguing particularly to the culture we're living in right now, because it's a lot of things we're actually lacking in.
Two words come to mind – one is intentionality, and one is quality. And they may even coincide together.
When I think about the intentionality of taking a pinch of great salt at the end of anything you cook – the simplicity of the eggs you make in the morning for your kids, for example – and the intentionality of putting them on a nice, white place. Something so simple can come across and fuel your own heart and the hearts of those you're feeding in a different way.
It doesn't have to be overly complicated with tons of ingredients.
It's more about the quality and the intentionality.
Can you talk about the values that drive your brand and help you make decisions about your business?
I would say again, quality is something we will never compromise.
This is the salt I grew up using in my own kitchen, and this is an incredible product that truly, by itself, stands out.
We hit a crossroads when we went into flavored salts. Several people told us we didn’t have to use this really expensive fleur de sel as the base of our flavored salts.
And, of course, that sounds tempting.
You start thinking, "Well that could really help my profit margin. That would be incredible."
But, my mom – who’s been through life in a different way and has great perspective – kept saying, "Absolutely not.”
And the reason why is because if we truly stand for something, that should be cohesive throughout, and people are going to learn to trust us, and that's what we need, and that's what we want.
Your branding is stand-out. You’ve done a really nice job of creating a consistent system but giving each item its own little ‘joie de vivre’. Can you share the story behind how you developed it and what experience you're trying to create for customers who are visually consuming the See Salt brand?
First, something important my husband – who owned a digital marketing agency for nearly seven years – told us right off the bat, was to create a brand guideline.
Now I'm sure many people think, "Oh, I don't want to create a brand guideline. I just want to move. Let's just get something out to the market and evolve."
And there’s some truth in that – you shouldn't sit and stew over something. That would be a negative.
But a positive to getting your brand guidelines down on paper is that it literally makes everything else simple. It’s made everything else fall into place, saved me time in the long run, and also kept me on a path.
In our case, our brand guidelines are pretty simple. It has our colors, our fonts, our different logo styles, and “if this/then that” guidelines.
So, when I go to print cute tissue paper for inside my packing boxes, it's one click away. I literally just pull what I need and send it off.
As for the colors we've chosen, I really wanted them to be clean and appetizing – consumable, as you said. The bright green represents freshness and the blue is classic and warm, to help balance out.
Did you create your branding design yourself, or did you work with an outside partner?
I have, in my opinion, one of the best graphic designers in all of Phoenix that I’ve partnered with from the very beginning. She’s had incredible experience working on very large brands, so it was a such a blessing that she took us on.
If you can use the same graphic designer or photographer throughout your business, that consistency is going to be such a natural tool for you without you even realizing it. That's going to build your brand and is such an asset.
I would highly recommend you find somebody that's a good fit for you as you continue to grow so you're not starting over from scratch every time. I think that people visually can see that you're not switching. The consistency of the same graphic designer is powerful.
I love that you’re using different materials for your packaging. You have a tin, a recyclable pouch, and a glass jar with this lovely ribbon, which really helps to identify the different flavors and pops off the shelf. Tell us about the choices you’ve made with your packaging materials.
We started with these very simple rice paper pouches, but I think they work well and plan on keeping them.
For our flavored line, I wanted to elevate slightly, so we did the glass jars with the nice tall lid. I want this to feel like a treat getting into it.
And then our newest packaging is the printed variety packs we just launched. It was our first time using any illustrations, and it’s funny because this was not in the plan, but everybody tells me this illustration looks like my mom.
The first round we printed had an issue with the ink bleeding over to the sides during shipping and transport. We took them back to the printer and he knew exactly how to fix the problem. That’s why working with a great printer is incredibly important.
What’s ahead for See Salt in 2020?
One of our main goals this next year is to get into some of the big retailers.
We really want to get into Whole Foods, AJ's, Williams-Sonoma – and I think a couple of those are right on the horizon.
So that's something we're thrilled about and I'm sure will come with different obstacles we'll have to maneuver.
Final question... what’s your best advice to someone who's building a brand in today’s marketplace?
I think the key thing is to think about your customer and who that person is, and to actually imagine them using your product, or keeping it on the counter, or wearing it, or whatever it is you're trying to sell.
Your brand should tell them the story you want to tell, even if you're not there.
Great advice! Thank you, Jess!
You can find See Salt Taste at: