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Winter brings sweet business to salt suppliers

A snow plow clears several inches of snow and drops deicing agent along Warren Avenue as the area deals with record breaking freezing weather January 6, 2014 in Detroit.

Unusually snowy winter in the United States has proven a good time to be in the salt business. This past weekend, workers at a New Jersey port unloaded precious cargo from Chile: a badly needed shipment of road salt. Earlier in February, Connecticut declared a state of emergency because of salt shortages.

“We’re really about one storm away from running out of salt here at the New Jersey Department of Transportation,” - Joe Dee, NJDOT communications director

That’s why the Chilean salt is so welcome; the state even sent a barge to Maine for emergency supplies.

“Last year, [New Jersey's Department of Transportation] used 258,000 tons of salt... Through February 18th, we had used 442,000 tons.”

One of the state's suppliers, the International Salt Company, says sales are up 136 percent this winter. Compass Minerals, another supplier, reports net earnings that almost doubled last quarter.

“It’s been a very busy winter. In the fourth quarter alone, we sold four million tons of rock salt, which is about 20 percent above our ten year average” - Tara Hart, Compass Minerals, salt supplier 

And all this demand was before “polar vortex” became a household phrase in January. Salt prices are set by bidding before the winter season, so suppliers say there’s no highway robbery -- still, it’s a lucrative time for the businesses that keep the highways clear.

Here are some more numbers that show just how lucrative the business has been for suppliers: 


442,000 tons

Last year, New Jersey Department of Transportation used 258,000 tons of salt (on interstate highways, U.S. highways, and state highways). Through February 18, 2014, they've used 442,000 tons. This figure is comparing 'snow seasons' not calendar years. Source: Joe Dee, communications director, New Jersey Department of Transportation

$97.7 million

This year, New Jersey has spent $97.7 million on snow costs (that includes snow removal and other services, in addition to salt treatment). Last year the state spent $62.5 million. (Again, that's comparing winter seasons, not calendar years.) Source: Joe Dee, communications director, New Jersey Department of Transportation

136% increase

The International Salt Co. sales (by volume) are up 136 percent this year vs. the same time frame last year (October - January).Source: Mary Kay Warner, marketing manager, International Salt Co.

81 'snow events'

"In the fourth quarter alone, 11 cities in our key market area reported a total of 81 snow events. The same cities posted only 36 snow events in the same timeframe last year." Source: Tara Hart, communications manager, Compass Minerals

$52/ton

"Our average selling price of highway deicing salts in the fourth quarter, was $52 a ton. That average includes U.S., Canada, and the U.K." Source: Tara Hart, communications manager, Compass Minerals


About the author

Kate Davidson is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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