Trends, Challenges, and Outlook
A comprehensive analysis of India’s salt production, trade, and consumption, highlighting changing trends, technological advancements, and emerging opportunities in the edible salt market.
India is the third largest salt producer in the world, after the United States and China. Gujarat is the largest salt-producing state in India, accounting for over 76% of the total production. Currently, the dynamics of the Indian edible salt industry are changing from the traditional, in terms of production process and technology, value addition trends, and consumer preferences. Indian salt industry is facing a number of challenges but is also undergoing some positive changes. These changes are helping to make the salt industry more sustainable, efficient, and competitive. The industry is expected to continue to grow in the coming years, driven by the growth of the food processing industry, increasing awareness of the health benefits of value-added salts, and the development of new salt-based products.
Salt production & trade Scenario
Nearly 13,000 salt manufacturers/processors are engaged in the production of raw salt in India. It is estimated that 85% of the total number of salt manufacturers are small, 5% large, and 10% medium scale producers. Salt is produced by the solar evaporation of seawater or inland brines, mining of rock salt and solution mining of brines. Sea brine is an important and larger source of salt in India. In Gujarat, most of the salt is produced from inland lakes and marine; the Sambhar Lake is India’s largest inland Salt Lake. Railways transport 60% of edible salt from production centres. The remaining salt is distributed through roads & waterways (40%). Of the total salt production in India, edible salt accounts for 30% and the remaining 70% is for industrial usage such as Caustic soda, soda ash, chlorine etc. Imports are negligible as domestic production volumes are huge. A huge volume of salt is exported from India. Edible salt and salt for chemical industries are being exported to many countries. China is the largest producer of salt, but still, it imports a huge quantity of salt from India for re-exporting to the US and European countries.
Edible Salt market scenario
The total salt produced is classified into edible and industrial salt. Industrial salt accounts for a larger share, up to 70%. Edible salt (30%) which includes Iodised salt, double fortified salt, low sodium salt, and Himalayan/rock salt. It is used by food processing industries, HoReCa (Hotel, Restaurant and Caterings) sector and for retail purposes. A large part of edible salt goes into the retail/household sector (50%) and the remaining HoReCa (30%) and retail (20%). Inhouse consumption of foods has increased after the Covid-19 pandemic and dependence on Hotels and cafes has reduced due to hygienic and awareness issues. Crystal iodised salt and free-flow salt are the majorly used salt categories in all sectors. Edible Salt available in the Indian market is extra-fine, fine, sugar size, medium, and coarse grain sizes. The size difference in production across the region (North & South) vary by 20-30%. The demand for iodised salt is increasing in the retail and processed food industries.
Changing dynamics In India, the market for edible salt is strong and expanding. The sector has undergone several changes recently, including new government laws, health-related trends, and technological advancements in salt manufacturing. Tata Chemicals has a 40% share in the total branded edible salt market and more than 18% share in the total salt market. TATA produces edible using vacuum evaporation technology by using steam-heated vacuum evaporators, after which it is packed in special laminated pouches and is sealed using modern technology. To manage operations remotely and forecast salt production, Tata has developed cutting-edge remote sensing technology for salt pans. TATA maintains salt inventory via SAP technology which makes it easier to monitor warehouse stocks and transportation to various depots, wholesalers, and retailers across the various state from the central warehouse. An average Indian consumes 11gm of salt per day; that is, more than 119% of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended limit of 5gm per day. Low sodium salt is a specially formulated salt that provides lower sodium than ordinary salt by partial replacement of sodium chloride with other compounds. Low sodium salt comes in different categories such as 15% less sodium, and 30% less sodium. Covid-19 impacted the household buying of salt. People have started to consume rock salt and low sodium salt for health benefits; low sodium salt is consumed by people with special health conditions in India and therefore is meant only for retail sales. It is not used in processed food and HoReCa sectors.
The consumption of double-fortified salt is increasing because of rising health consciousness; people are shifting from regular iodised salt to double-fortified salt. Doctors are recommending the consumption of double-fortified salt due to iron deficiency. The retail value for value-added salt has accelerated post-pandemic and is gaining more visibility. There is a lot of potential for value-added salt in the coming years. The government has introduced regulations on the amount of iodine that must be added to salt. These regulations are aimed at ensuring the quality of salt and protecting consumers.
Conclusion Although the salt sector in India is experiencing a variety of difficulties like weather, labour shortage, smaller capacity, quality etc., it is also making progress. The number of salt iodisation plants has increased in the last few years. This means that the production of edible salt has increased. Companies’ use of technology for production and inventory maintenance has increased over the past few years. The demand for iodised salt is increasing in the retail and processed food sectors. Household coverage of iodised salt is more and increasing further. In processed food and HoReCa sectors, other salts such as rock salt and Himalayan salt are used rarely. It is primarily utilised in the retail sector. However, only about 20-25% of people buy these salts again. Low-sodium salt is consumed by special health conditions people. Currently, the demand for double-fortified salt is lower compared to iodised free flow and crystal salt. TATA is the leader in all edible salt categories. TATA has gained consumer trust by providing a quality product and providing a variety of salt to consumers. Salt production in India can be increased by increasing production area. There is still scope to improve purity levels and product quality. Salt exports can also be increased by improving quality and maintaining international standards. Overall, the edible salt industry has a very good future; new entrepreneurs should grab this opportunity. An opportunity exists in the rising demand for iodized coarse grains of salt in processed food products and low-sodium, double-fortified retail sales are also rising.
By Vijayendran M
Author is an Associate Project Manager at F1rst with a postgraduate in Bio-Chemical Technology (BCT). For more information about this study, you can reach out to Vijayendran@firstmr.com