North America Salt Market Size
The salt market in North America was worth 3.17 billion USD in 2015. Until 2019, it grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.83% and reached 3.55 billion USD.
The United States held the largest share of the market in value terms with nearly 76%. Canada and Mexico followed with 14.8 % and 9.5%, respectively. Among the three countries, Mexico recorded the largest growth, with a close to 30% CAGR for the period.
In 2019, roughly 90% of the salt in North America was produced domestically, and the rest was imported from outside the region.
Salt Market Trends
The salt market in North America is highly interconnected to the supply chains of its many downstream sectors. Thus, demand for salt is highly dependent on the overall stability of its consuming industries.
Salt production tends to be local, with most processing plants being less than a few hundred kilometers from a production site. That is mainly due to a combination of low value-to-weight ratios and the widespread geographical presence of salt.
Still, large volumes of salt also see trade over long distances. Mexico is a notable exporter of salt, due to its climate and geography, which enable the production of solar salt at a low cost.
Deicing salt for roads and highways is the largest consuming segment in the region. Its consumption patterns can vary significantly from one year to another. That is due to volatility in demand, which is strongly dependent on winter conditions.
The US alone has more than 4 million miles (6.5 million kilometers) of roads, including the 48,000-mile (78,000-kilometer) interstate highway system. As a result, regular maintenance requires a substantial volume of salt on an annual basis.
In the US, the deicing industry accounted for slightly more than 40% of total salt sales in 2019.
Canada also uses most produced salt as a deicing agent, especially in Ontario, Quebec, and the eastern provinces. About 95% of Canada’s domestic salt consumption is for chemical and deicing purposes.
The number of winter weather events in the US was significantly higher in the last few years. As a result, the North American salt market experienced increased demand for highway deicing. Many local and state transportation departments increased their salt orders, raising overall production and imports compared to previous years.
Along with a surge in demand, there were also production interruptions at mines.
In 2018, Canada faced salt shortages due to labor strikes, freak weather events, and a flooded salt mine. These events all contributed to a shortage of salt for deicing. Local salt mines were only able to supply municipal contracts, while others relied on imported salt.
Deicing salt alternatives
Although sodium chloride is the primary highway deicing agent, there are concerns over its effect on the environment and infrastructure. Salt is corrosive and can cause damage to roads, bridge decks, parking lots, vehicles, and aquatic ecosystems.
As a result, a growing number of communities in North America seek out environmentally safe alternatives to salt. Among them, beet juice has gained the most attention.
Although slightly more expensive, the beet mixture is more efficient, less toxic, and less corrosive. Quebec, Toronto and other municipalities already use an organic spray made from sugar beets to remove ice from their roads.
The beet solution is even preferred for colder regions. It can be used for temperatures as low as -32° C (-25.6° F), while salt begins to lose its effectiveness in weather below -10° C (14° F).
The chemical industry is the second-largest consumer of salt in North America. In the USA, the chemical industry made up 39% of total sales in 2018, of which salt in brine accounted for about 87% of the salt used for chemical feedstock.
Salt is used as feedstock for the chemical synthesis of a seemingly endless list of chemicals and derivatives. From these compounds, chlorine and caustic soda consume the most salt within the chemical industry.
These chemicals are then utilized to make many consumer end-products. Those include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) made from chlorine along with paper-pulping chemicals manufactured from caustic soda.
Salt is also used in the manufacturing of other commodities such as glass, rubber, and textiles. It also has applications in water treatment systems for industry and domestic use.
Chlorine is a basic chemical and essential for producing a significant amount of durable and non-durable consumer goods. Roughly half of the outputted chemicals are then converted into plastic materials, a primary growth driver for both the chemical and salt industries
In the last few years, salt production has benefitted from shale gas drilling in North America. Local companies have taken advantage of the cheaper US ethane and increased their PVC production capacity across the region. In the past few years, the salt market in the US grew mostly due to chlorine demand for the production of PVC.
However, with the advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, consuming industries have experienced weak demand and falling prices. The lower demand for downstream products has resulted in lower operating rates in the short term.
Another output for sodium chloride is synthetic soda ash. Soda ash (sodium carbonate) is produced synthetically and from natural resources. Synthetic soda ash accounts for about 74% of global capacity, while trona mines in Wyoming account for about 90% of the total soda ash production in the country.
Soda ash has applications in the manufacturing of chemicals, synthetic detergents, fertilizers, and glass. The US accounts for nearly 75% of the North American consumption of soda ash. Demand was driven by the production of glass, which was responsible for almost half of the consumption.
Water Treatment Industry
Salt also has applications in water treatment. Salt is used to produce chlorine-based drinking water disinfectants. They help eliminate waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery.
At the same time, water softening systems use salt to remove calcium and magnesium ions from hard water and replace them with sodium ions. Over the last few years, however, many states in the USA decided to ban salt water softeners entirely or restrict their use.
That has been a result of local government attempts to reduce environmental damage. In time, discharge from salt water softeners could lead to increasing levels of sodium in fresh water supplies, and excessive chloride levels in the soil.
Salt is an essential component of nearly all savory dishes in the world. Although it is a kitchen staple, most edible salt goes for the production of processed foods.
Over the last few years, demand for salt among consumers and food processors has been stable. However, consumers have started to pay more attention to their sodium intake. According to the CDC, nearly 75% of consumers support policies that reduce or limit salt content in various food outlets and manufactured food.
Furthermore, many governments and health agencies attempt to reduce salt intake among their population. That is due to health issues resulting from excessive consumption.
Despite that, salt used in food processing accounted for only about 4% of total sales in the USA in 2019. Thus, any changes in official dietary recommendations or consumer eating habits will likely have a negligible effect on the salt market as a whole.