Industry efforts to cut sodium have snowballed in recent months, but Americans are consuming fewer low-sodium products, according to market research organization the NPD Group.
The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that the average American gets about 4,000mg of sodium a day, well above the recommended daily maximum of 2,300mg. Excessive sodium intake has been linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and with an estimated 75 percent of sodium in the average US diet coming from packaged foods, industry has been under pressure to reformulate foods to contain less sodium.
The NPD research, which has examined US consumer behavior over a period of 30 years, found that although consumers increasingly say they are concerned about the amount of sodium in their diets, the number of people buying products that claim to have low or no sodium has steadily declined.
Chief industry analyst at the NPD Group Harry Balzer said: “In my 30 years of observing Americans eating behaviors, there is often a gap between what consumers say and what they do. It’s easier to aspire to a positive behavior than to actually do it.”
Nevertheless, the market researcher said concern about sodium consumption – which has been rising since 2004, with nearly a quarter saying they are cautious about salt in November 2009 – is likely to rise even further in the years ahead.
The market researcher said: “The projected number of individuals who feel “a person should be very cautious in serving foods with salt” is forecasted to increase by 14 percent by 2018.”
Whether concern about sodium translates into product sales is an important issue for many food manufacturers, as many of the major players have come out in force in recent months to announce new sodium reduction targets.
General Mills said earlier this month that it intends to reduce sodium by 20 percent in about 40 percent of its product range by 2015; 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.