US low-sodium product launches soar – but consumers go for taste

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sodium Nutrition Unilever

The US has launched more products claiming low or no sodium than any other country in the past three years, according to a new report from Packaged Facts – but consumers still prioritize good taste.

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 is already under pressure to reformulate foods to contain less sodium.

However, Packaged Facts claims that reducing sodium intake is not at the top of consumers’ list of priorities for dietary change. The market research organization said that low-sodium is not as important to consumers’ healthy eating agendas as eating more fruit and vegetables, more fiber or limiting saturated fat, sugar and trans fat. Nevertheless, “if good-tasting, lower-sodium options are offered, consumers will buy them,” ​it said, as consumers are interested in eating healthier foods overall.

Sodium reduction poses many challenges for manufacturers, including functionality as a leavening agent or preservative, as well as consumers’ flavor preference. But there is still huge momentum in the industry to reduce sodium.

According to Datamonitor figures, there were 762 food or non-alcoholic drink launches with a low- or no-sodium claim in the United States from 2005 to 2009 – more than five times more than Japan, with the second highest number of low- or no-sodium product launches, or 152.

Several major food manufacturers have already started to reduce the amount of sodium in their products. Kraft, for example, announced its intention to reduce the sodium content of its entire North American portfolio by an average of 10 percent over the next two years.

President of Kraft Foods’ health and wellness division Rhonda Jordan told Packaged Facts: “We are reducing sodium because it’s good for customers, and, if done properly, it’s good for business. A growing number of consumers are concerned about their sodium intake, and we want to help them translate their intentions into actions.”

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. To measure salt reduction by this target Unilever has said it will assess the contribution of its products to the daily salt intake of consumers and adjust salt levels accordingly.

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