A 2016 study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed that more than 90% of children and 89% of adults aged 19 and older eat too much sodium.
With more dining out, consuming packaged meals and processed food, it is no wonder that people are exposed to food choices that are high in salt.
This has inevitably brought about diseases related to consuming much salt, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Food News International asks Karina Sventitskayte, food and drink industry analyst at business information portal Visiongain on her take on the market sentiments on reducing sodium in food offerings in the US, as well as the potential for reduced sodium products.
From the lawmakers
As the pressure to reduce the intake of sodium becomes stronger, governments are taking steps to achieve good results.
For now, sodium reduction initiatives have more of a voluntary character, but it is likely that they will become stricter and eventually mandatory to ensure the compliance with the World Health Organisation’s guideline on Sodium Intake for Adults and Children.
Currently, salt has a Generally Recognized As Safe status in the US.
It will take a while for the Food, Drug and Administration (FDA) to change the legislation that will allow the limiting of the amount of sodium or salt added in processed foods.
This would give food manufacturers a relative freedom for now.
Helping people lead healthier lives
Hopefully, more food manufacturers and restaurant chains will start introducing reduced sodium versions of products, contributing to the growth of a healthier population in the long-term.
Besides, as the FDA points out, a reduced sodium diet leads to a fewer cases of diseases associated with an excessive salt consumption.
Therefore, a step towards sodium reduction can help to save on healthcare in the future, opening development opportunities in other sectors.
As food manufacturers are responding to the latest consumer trends such as ‘better-for-you’ and ‘free-from’ products, they have launched new items that are lower in sodium and salt-free.
As the industry develops, new methods of production become available, such as high pressure processing or HPP technology, which allows manufacturers to produce ‘cleaner’ products without the use of preservatives like salt.
This technology is already becoming cheaper and more accessible to mid-size and smaller manufacturers, hinting that a new wave of clean label products is on the way.
Besides, as the technological development goes forward, some companies already offer ingredients that promise to deliver reduced sodium content in a wide range of products without compromising on taste.
Companies such as Cargill, E.I. DuPont and Innophos Holdings offer a wide selection of sodium reduction ingredients and products.
Notably, US-based NuTek Food Science, which was launched in 2006, manufactures sodium replacement products for food producers, retailers and restaurant chains.
Using naturally-sourced potassium salt, the company applies a patented technology to replace sodium chloride salt by up to 75% without compromising on taste.
This is definitely a breakthrough, because even though potassium chloride has been used to replace salt for a while, it was not possible to use it in large amounts due to a bitter and metallic aftertaste.
US manufacturers respond quickly
On a global scale, the US represents one of the largest markets for sodium reduction ingredients, indicating that the industry generated a good and quick response to the market tendency for sodium reduction.
US consumers are also generally well educated when it comes to food, especially due to media campaigns that promote a healthy lifestyle.
While the question of consumer acceptance of reduced sodium foods still bothers some food manufacturers, preventing them from launching such products, the demand is growing in the country, creating opportunities in the sector.
In my opinion, the US is one of the markets that can be considered as ready to offer reduced sodium products on a large scale.
The demand for reduced sodium foods is growing globally, driven by such factors as a call from healthcare authorities, an increasing pressure on food manufacturers, government initiatives, rising demand for processed food, a shift to a healthier diet among consumers, and generally improved quality and taste of reduced sodium products.
Apart from the US, the market for reduced sodium products is also growing in many countries, especially in Europe and the Asia Pacific region where the health and wellness trend is particularly strong.
For example, the UK is one of the largest national European markets for sodium reduction ingredients.
The UK Food Standards Agency is on the frontline of the industry and in 2014 it has published a new guideline on sodium reduction targets, encompassing 76 categories of food.
The UK campaign is sometimes called a ‘stealth reduction’ because it is targeting to reduce the level of sodium gradually in order to ensure the acceptance of products by consumers.
Too early to enforce salt-tax
Given the draft stage of the guideline, it is probably too early to enforce a ‘salt-tax’ now. However, as the regulations become stricter, it could eventually lead to the implementation of the tax.
In this case, categories such as baked goods and processed meats, particularly lunch meats, will be affected first as these foods are the largest contributors to a high salt intake.
A ‘sugar tax’ targeting beverages in the UK is an example of a similar tax on a particular ingredient.
This tax has exceptions for such beverages as fruit juices, which contain high levels of natural sugar that would take them above the taxable threshold.
A ‘salt tax’ in the US is likely to have similar exceptions if it ever becomes a law.
Appealing to the masses
Emphasizing the beneficial effects of reduced sodium products for the health would be the first step to attract consumers’ attention.
Even though US consumers are generally well educated in terms of nutrition, there are still many people who are not aware of the problem in question, hence there is a need to explain why these products are ‘better-for-you’.
Food and beverage manufacturers could also capitalize on combining several popular consumer trends in their offerings, such as by fortifying and certifying products, as well as using sustainable sources.
Companies have also offered foods that bear claims such as ‘certified organic’, ‘additional source of calcium’ and ‘helps with digestion’.
It is important to keep it simple.
As practice shows, some companies fail by addressing too many claims.
Firstly, the messages become blurred, and secondly, a consumer group may become too big and undefined.
The marketers of natural, ‘better-for-you’, ‘free-from’ and other heath-targeted types of foods will probably benefit most from this trend as they already have a sound name among consumers.
Even though reduced sodium food is slowly entering the mainstream market, it is still quite a niche category and consumers are not very familiar with it.
They will be more likely to trust reputable companies with a proven portfolio of healthy and tasty foods.