PINELLAS COUNTY — When Maureen Cacioppo turned her hobby of making salt into a business, she always made it her mission to give back and help others. Even in her companies most trying time, she's sticking to her promise.
We met Cacioppo at a beach near the Sunshine Skyway. She gave us a quick demonstration of how she used to boil the water from the Gulf of Mexico to make her salt. It was a basic setup: a propane tank hooked to a large burner and a giant pot of boiling water on top. Now, she works out of a professional facility using all the knowledge she learned to hone her skills on the perfect product. But it wasn't easy.
"I started to do some research on it. Learning more about the history and really nerding out and reteaching myself high school chemistry," Cacioppo said. "One day, I think I just went out in the backyard and got some water and started ruining my pots. There is a skill, and the heart of it it's really basic, it's salinity. It's the water, it's time, and it's heat, but you need to make sure your water is clean. There are a lot of variables that go into that and a lot of testing; you know we send our water away to the labs, and we do our filtering, and there is quite a process and quite a long learning that we went into."
In 2016, Florida Pure Sea Salt launched.
"That first year and the year prior to that first year in business really was a lot of failure, and I loved it I loved failing and learning from it, and I think as a small business owner you do it a lot you make a lot of mistakes, and you learn from it and move forward," Cacioppo said.
Cacioppo has various locations she wanted to keep secret about where she harvests her saltwater. The Skyway area near Tampa Bay is not one of them, and for a good reason.
"It's not ideal to harvest around people," Cacioppo said.
Sewage spills into Tampa Bay, and fertilizer runoff can ruin any good batch of salt. Cacioppo says she performs rigorous testing on the water quality to ensure every batch is safe and monitors each step of the process.
"We are an all-natural sea salt company, and what that means is, we are not putting anti-clumping agents, we are not putting in any bleach," Cacioppo said. "And, when we don't add those things, what happens is all the minerals that take place naturally in seawater stays put. So, we need them for our body 80 plus minerals five; ten maybe trace minerals."
Cacioppo says the company is mindful of how much salt they harvest from the ocean. But, sometimes, she doesn't have a choice. Hurricanes, red tide, water quality issues like fertilizer runoff or human waste can stop production or force Cacioppo's team to harvest in the Atlantic Ocean. To limit their carbon footprint, they only harvest on the East Coast when necessary.
Despite losing 75% of their sales in the 4th quarter of 2020 and still fighting to get their sales back up, Cacioppo launched a new initiative with local and national non-profits. She is donating 20 % to that charity for each specialty salt sold. Each month she plans to highlight a new charity.
ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska asked Cacioppo if that would impact their rebound out of this pandemic.
"You know you gotta put it out there," Cacioppo said. "I really believe that there's a vibration, and we are all connected, and when you support each other, that support comes back. I have no doubt in that. More than ever, people are struggling a lot more than me for all sorts of different reasons in our business, and I feel really fortunate to be where we are, and this was the perfect year to start this initiative."