'Pass the Salt' Pleas Have Created a Shortage

Hardware stores are reporting a run on rock salt and ice melt across the U.S.

ByABC News
February 15, 2014, 8:45 AM
A person walks on a city sidewalk covered in salt, Feb. 12, 2014 in New York.
A person walks on a city sidewalk covered in salt, Feb. 12, 2014 in New York.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Feb. 15, 2014— -- There has been no shortage of snow and ice this winter, but the grueling and seemingly unending season has caused a shortage of salt both for municipalities needing to keep roads open and stores trying to keep their shelves stocked.

The crisis was highlighted when Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy declared a state of emergency this week because of the salt shortage and he appealed to the federal government for help in urgently finding new sources of road salt. On Friday, Malloy announced that the state had prepared a relief package for municipalities that faced road salt shortages and quickly received requests for assistance from 121 municipalities.

Demand is so strong that major salt suppliers said they have to refused to take on new customers because they were struggling to fill the demands of existing stores, and at least one salt delivery company has been accused of "gouging" a hard-hit county.

The deep freeze throughout the South and Northeast has heated up the profits of salt suppliers.

Denise Lauer, a spokeswoman for salt manufacturer Morton Salt Inc. -- the same company that sells table salt featuring a girl beneath an umbrella -- said it has shipped more than triple the amount of road salt this season compared to last season.

"Even compared to a ‘normal’ winter, we’ve shipped significantly more road salt this season to the markets we serve due to the severe weather," Lauer said of the privately owned, Chicago-based salt seller.

North American Salt Company, which is based in Overland Park, Kan., and owns the world's largest salt mine in Goderich, Ontario, sold 4 million tons of rock salt in its fourth quarter, 20 percent above its 10-year average, its parent company Compass Minerals announced this week.

Shares of Compass Minerals International, which reported on Monday strong fourth quarter earnings boosted by the cold weather, closed up 0.64 percent to $85.99 on Friday. The company earned $58.4 million in the last three months of last year, compared to $30.1 million in the same period during the previous year.

Ace Hardware's Lori Bossmann said demand for rock salt and ice melt products has risen 250 percent this winter compared to last year, and salt orders had surged in at least 75 percent of its stores.

In the last seven days, Ace has shipped over 30,000 bags to its stores, but some stores are already sold out. One rock salt vendor will ship its last 100 truckloads to Ace Hardware in the next 10 to 14 days, but is not accepting any more orders after that for the entire winter season.

"If we had more product, we would be shipping more. Vendors have allocated as much product as they can, but raw material is in short supply," she said.

Some rock salt companies are not taking orders for new customers due to depleted supplies, Bossmann said. "If you’re not an existing customer, they aren’t taking new customers. They won’t ship to you," she said.

"It’s been a crazy last six weeks," she added.

Tara Hart, communications manager for North American Salt, rejected suggestions that the shortage has raised prices for road salt. She said salt is sold to governments through a "highly" structured sealed-bid process. Because bids and contracts occur before the winter weather sets in, the price doesn’t fluctuate based on the amount of snow a region is experiencing, she said.

Nevertheless, Georgia's department of transportation accused a trucking subcontractor of attempting to price gouge one of its counties over rock salt, the Atlantic Journal-Constitution reported.

While ice melt is in short supply due to heavy demand, she recommends several alternatives such as water softener salts, playground sand and snow throwers.