Move over Dead Sea cosmetics. It’s time for Dead Sea foods.
Well, not exactly foods, but salts. More precisely, gourmet salts in all sorts of exotic flavors. Green seaweed and velvet plum Merlot not your thing? Then how about garlic and ginger, savory slow-smoked, or, if you prefer a bit of a kick, sweet orange & chili?
A self-described “Dead Sea evangelist,” Ari Fruchter is the man behind Naked Sea Salt, a new project he plans to take global. And if the fundraising campaign he recently launched on Kickstarter is any indication, Fruchter, a 42-year-old former New Yorker who has lived in Israel off and on for years, has good reason to be hopeful. Within just two days, Naked Sea Salt reached its $10,000 goal on the popular crowd-funding site, and with three weeks still to go, is edging toward the $30,000 mark with almost 800 backers.
This is Fruchter’s second Dead Sea project. Two years ago, he brought his good friend, American photographer Spencer Tunick, to Israel to do one of the large-scale nude shoots that have gained him international acclaim. The widely publicized event had almost 1,200 Israelis bare it all at the Dead Sea. Fruchter’s intention was to use the hype created to raise awareness of the environmental dangers facing the lowest region on earth.
He now hopes to parlay both his reputation as a Dead Sea activist and the latest foodie craze for low sodium, mineral-rich natural sea salts into a profitable business venture.
But not just.
As he describes it, Naked Sea Salt is also a social enterprise that’s as much about promoting coexistence and environmentalism as it is about selling a new line of culinary seasonings to health-conscious consumers around the world.
Adrift after the famous nude photo
It all began when Fruchter, a former men’s fashion designer who spent many years in high-tech and moved to Israel in 1997, was looking for his next big project. “It was such a high working on the Dead Sea shoot with Spencer, but then it was all over, and I started wondering what I was going to do next.” (Fruchter first met Tunick, who is Jewish and has close family in Israel, when the photographer was commissioned to shoot a portrait of the up-and-coming fashion designer for a magazine profile more than 20 years ago. The two immediately hit it off.)
By chance recently, Fruchter walked into a local restaurant and noticed some samples of flavored Dead Sea salts lying around. “Like most people, I didn’t even know that Dead Sea salt was edible,” he recalls. Fruchter was intrigued, though, and had a taste. He liked it so much that he decided to track down the maker.
Enter Alon Lior, a Haifa-based foodie, who several years earlier had discovered West Bank Salt Works, a small factory on the northern end of the Dead Sea, near Kalia. The family-run enterprise had been harvesting salt out of the Dead Sea and selling it locally for almost 50 years, opening shop when the area was still under Jordanian control. A chance encounter between Lior and Hussam Hallak led to the creation of Salt 424, a joint venture that produces flavored Dead Sea salts. The Hallak family enterprise supplies Lior with salt from the Dead Sea, which he then blends with other spices and herbs to create multi-colored and multi-flavored seasonings. Until now, the products have just been sold in Israel.
Enter Fruchter, who immediately identified an opportunity for something much bigger and more buzz-worthy. His first step in introducing the world to this unusual Israeli-Palestinian collaboration was to repackage the product under his own sexier-sounding Naked Sea brand, (also the title of Tunick’s Dead Sea installation). The next step was to bring some big names on board.
The first was Abe’s Market, the popular online retailer of natural products, one of whose Chicago-born founders lives in Israel. Otherwise known as the virtual version of Whole Foods, Abe’s Market, which only works with companies that have been thoroughly vetted, has undertaken to fulfill all Naked Sea Salt orders. Also lending its prestige to the project is the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, affiliated with Ben-Gurion University. Naked Sea Salt has promised to donate a percentage of all its earnings to AIES to fund projects that protect the Dead Sea.
The purpose of the Kickstarter campaign is to finance the production of an initial batch of salts in order to fulfill pre-orders. Currently, 15 different flavors of salt are available (selling for $15 per 3.8-ounce grinder or $20 per 8.8-ounce jar). “If we reach $50,000 by the time we finish our campaign at the end of the month,” promises Fruchter, “we’ll add another two flavors to the list.”