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ConAgra promises to cut down on salt

By Guy Montague-Jones, 16-Oct-2009

Related topics: Flavors and colors, Preservatives and acidulants, Suppliers

ConAgra Foods has set an across the board salt reduction target of 20 percent by 2015 in response to growing consumer and public policy pressure.

Salty diets have been shown to increase risk of heart disease and yet the USDA says the average American consumes 4,000mg of sodium a day, when the maximum recommended amount is 2,300mg.

Over consumption of salt is beginning to filter into consumer consciousness and raise alarm bells in public policy circles. So when asked why ConAgra is cutting back on salt, company spokesperson Teresa Paulsen said: “Consumer interest has grown significantly over the past few years.”

Part of the reason for this increased awareness is that excess salt consumption has climbed up the health agenda. Just recently the Center for Science in the Public Interest hit out at food firms for the salt levels in their foods.

And here the ConAgra drive against salt finds another purpose. No regulatory moves have been made to force salt out of food in the US but pressure is building and Paulsen said the ConAgra targets come in anticipation of any government targets.

Salt cutting strategies

One danger for food companies wanting to cut salt levels is that they will also end up cutting out flavour. Paulsen said ConAgra plans to employ a variety of tools to reach its salt reduction targets without compromising on taste.

One strategy will be to extend the use of Micron Salt, which is a salt replacement technology developed by the company.

Otherwise, ConAgra will use different herbs and spices developed by its ingredients division to help reduce salt levels.

Paulsen said the company will also work with other suppliers and, when appropriate, simply take out salt gradually from existing recipes. She mentioned canned tomatoes as an example of a product where this technique may be employed.

Work on reducing salt levels using these different methods at ConAgra is already underway. Since 2006 the company has removed more than 2 million pounds of salt from its products.

As the salt cutting effort continues towards the 2015 target, progress updates will be published in the annual Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report.

Other initiatives

ConAgra is not the only company to have publically launched salt reduction initiatives. In April this year Unilever announced its own salt strategy.

But instead of pledging a percentage reduction in salt levels Unilever went for a more complex approach.

The Anglo-Dutch company is aiming to pull salt levels down to the WHO maximum recommendation of 5g a day by 2015. To measure salt reduction by this target Unilever will assess the contribution of its products to the daily salt intake of consumers and adjust salt levels accordingly.