David Lea Wilson – Halen Môn
Meet the Anglesey-based businessman who’s turned the local seawater into a global brand.
As co-founder of Halen Mon – a business that harvests and supplies Anglesey sea-salt – David Lea Wilson has transformed his vision into a tangible product enjoyed by food lovers in more than twenty-five countries. In the twenty or so years since David and his wife first struck culinary gold by boiling a pan of local seawater on their kitchen stove, Halen Mon sea-salt has gone on to appear on the shelves of Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Harvey Nichols, not to mention at the tables of some of the world’s finest restaurants, including the Fat Duck.
Without David and his wife’s clear vision for what they wanted to achieve though, Halen Mon would never have been born – and none of this success would have followed. As David explains, “Halen Mon was our third business venture. I think the reason it has become such a success is because, by that stage, we knew exactly what we wanted. We knew we wanted to develop an up-market product that was needed all year round. Our other businesses had been seasonal, which present some obvious challenges.”
This unwavering vision has sustained Halen Mon through thick and thin. And indeed, the success the company has enjoyed in recent years is a far cry from the struggles it experienced in the early years. Initially, the biggest obstacle was around pricing – in particular, convincing people that Halen Mon sea salt was worth its premium price. And then, in 2001, as things were slowly starting to take off, the foot and mouth crisis happened and wiped away 80% of the company’s income, almost overnight.
Having successfully ridden out those challenges and others, David is now drawing on past experiences to ensure the present era of success continues. For example, he considers the way he empowers his staff to be integral to performance. David says, “We learnt quite early on that by giving our employees the freedom to show what they can do, and by promoting people from within, they in turn would repay us many time over.”
Another inspirational lesson learned – and one that reinforced David’s belief in innovation as a driver of performance – came after a brief conversation with world-famous chef Heston Blumenthal. “He wanted smoked water,” David explains. “So rather than automatically say that sounds completely crazy, we did that for him, and two or three years later it’s selling really well to people like Marks and Spencer and numerous food manufacturers. It’s been really, really successful for us.”
With this in mind, David continues to invest in innovation today. “I read once that twenty percent of your products should be less than a year old, and I totally agree you need a pipeline of ideas,” David says. “Now that our brand is becoming more recognised, we are launching new products like Bloody Mary ketchup. I’m spending more and more time researching stuff, and I’m excited by the next idea.”
In terms of BeTheSpark, David says it has an important role to play resetting people’s expectations. “Be The Spark is a movement that will show ordinary people they can achieve extraordinary things. When it comes to ambition, people shouldn’t worry about being too ambitious, only about not being ambitious enough.”