Food manufacturers are also facing the challenge of reducing salt content without compromising palatability, said the science policy paper from The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) “Sodium and Salt: A Guide for Consumers, Policymakers and the Media”.
It added that manufacturers are wary of alienating customers by drastically and too quickly altering flavor and texture profiles as consumers are loyal and sensitive to brands and products developed with specific formulations.
But research on alternative ingredients and technologies has expanded in recent years and continues to grow in areas such as salt substitutes and taste enhancers.
It highlighted steps being taken in the industry to change salt-taste preferences and said: “Some food processors are actively following step-down plans to gradually reduce the sodium contents of their products.”
Such reductions are over various lengths of time and “help reshape and reduce loyal consumers’ salt-taste preferences towards these foods”.
The food industry faces pressure to reduce the amount of salt in products as a body of evidence has linked excess salt (sodium chloride) in the diet to an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
Over three quarters of the salt in the average American diet comes from processed foods, according to the US Dietary Guidelines.
In 2005, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration to change the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status of salt. FDA held a hearing in September 2007 but no action has yet been taken.
The GMA paper said more research is needed before mandating policy changes relating to salt or sodium levels in food in the US. This would need to cover areas including cardiovascular outcomes, consumer behavior, salt-taste mechanisms and development of salt alternatives and enhancers.
The idea behind the paper is to provide policymakers, consumers, journalists and health professionals with “current and scientifically accurate information and resources on sodium and salt”.
Robert Brackett, chief science officer for GMA, said: “The food industry takes seriously its commitment to develop products that provide choices for consumers interested in managing their intake of salt (sodium chloride) and sodium.
“Companies are achieving lower sodium in products through extensive research, reformulation, new salt reduction technology and new product development.”
Annual retail sales of food and beverages with sodium or salt-related claims was $15.9bn, according to figures from The Nielsen Company for the year ending April 19 2008, which were quoted in the paper.
Also the introduction of new food and beverage products totaled 1,343, of which 2.7 per cent were low-and-no sodium.
In terms of health-and-wellness claims, sales are behind labels relating to fat, natural ingredients and calories but ahead of those highlighting the absence of preservative or cholesterol or the presence of whole grains.