According to Christina Wong and her co-workers at the Universities of Toronto and Guelph, the food industry “believes the advertisement of reductions in sodium will lead to lower sales because of misconceptions over the poor taste of lower-sodium products”.
This stance may be reinforced by high profile examples, such as the move by Campbell’s Soup in 2011 to add some salt back into its Select Harvest soup range in an attempt to revive flagging sales.
Speaking with FoodNavigator-USA at the time, Beverly Murray, founder of branding agency R&M, told us that Campbell’s move should be noted as a cautionary tale. Campbell’s problem, she said in the summer of 2011, was that the company didn’t just dip its toe in the water with some stealthy, under-the-radar sodium reduction, it went for it all guns blazing.
Times may be a-changing
However, new findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, challenge these perceptions.
“Data from our study showed that consumers were attracted to and considered sodium claims useful and influential in their intended purchasing decisions,” wrote Wong and her co-workers.
“Thus, our results suggested that, as public health efforts continue to promote dietary sodium reduction, there would be a benefit to the industry in communicating the sodium content on the labels of their low-sodium food products, which may also stimulate the reformulation or introduction of additional lower-sodium products in the market place.”
The Canada-based scientists used four mock, but professionally-designed packages to evaluate how different types of sodium claims affected consumer attitudes.
The study, which included 506 Canadian consumers with and without hypertension, surveyed their attitudes to four different types of claims: Three claims related specifically to sodium (disease risk reduction, function, and nutrient-content claims), while a fourth – ‘tastes great’ – acted as the control product.
Results showed that all three sodium-related claims resulted in “more-positive attitudes toward the claim, overall product healthfulness, and purchasing intentions than did the taste claim (control), although all mock packages were identical in nutritional composition and labeling except for the tested claims”, wrote Wong et al.
“The fact that all sodium claims elicited higher purchasing intentions than did the control tastes great claim contradicts the often-stated industry strategy of the use of a stealth approach to sodium reduction in food products,” they added.
“There is great public health significance in the investigation of sodium claims to help inform labeling and sodium-reduction food policy because these types of claims are present in the market place and can be used to propel population dietary sodium reductions forward,” they concluded.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.052910
“Consumer attitudes and understanding of low-sodium claims on food: an analysis of healthy and hypertensive individuals”
Authors: C.L. Wong, J. Arcand, J. Mendoza, S.J. Henson, Y. Qi, W. Lou, M.R. L’Abbe´