The company said it has been ‘silently’ reducing sodium since 2005, but has joined other food giants including Kraft, ConAgra and Unilever in making public its sodium reduction plans. General Mills said it has already successfully cut sodium in several of its products, citing a 16 percent reduction for Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, a 25 percent reduction for some Progresso soups, and a 36 percent reduction for its Chex snack mix products.
Consumer acceptability has been one of the biggest challenges for industry in reducing sodium and until recently, many companies have been reluctant to discuss their reduction plans in the fear that they could affect taste perception.
But industry has been under increasing pressure to reduce sodium, as health experts have said most Americans consume far too much. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average is about 4,000mg a day, compared to the maximum recommended intake of 2,300mg, and about 75 percent of this comes from packaged foods.
General Mills said in its 2010 corporate social responsibility (CSR) report that the newly announced 20 percent reduction in sodium would affect about 600 products.
Vice president, Health and Nutrition, and director of the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition at General Mills Susan Crockett said: “General Mills is committed to reducing sodium levels in a series of small steps across our portfolio. We believe making changes in a series of smaller steps is the right way to continue to deliver great taste while reducing sodium.”
The company said it has improved the health and nutrition profile of nearly half of its product since 2005, by reducing calories, fat, sugar and sodium, and by adding vitamins, calcium, whole grain, and fiber.
Other industry moves
Among other food manufacturers that have also started to reduce the amount of sodium in their products, Kraft announced its intention last month to reduce the sodium content of its entire North American portfolio by an average of 10 percent over the next two years.
ConAgra set an across the board sodium reduction target of 20 percent by 2015 in October. And Unilever also announced a sodium reduction strategy last April, but instead of pledging a percentage reduction in salt levels, Unilever went for a more complex approach.
It aims to reduce salt levels down to the WHO maximum recommendation of 5g (about 2000mg sodium) a day by 2015, it said. To measure salt reduction by this target Unilever said it would assess the contribution of its products to the daily salt intake of consumers and adjust salt levels accordingly.