Salt Replacement ‘Cocktails’ the Best Formulation Strategy for Packaged Food

In July 2011, leading soup manufacturer Campbell announced its plan to reintroduce original sodium levels to its Select Harvest soup line in direct response to sluggish sales. This move sparked heavy criticism and intense debate about sodium reduction strategies within packaged food, which is thought to account for around 80% of consumers’ everyday consumption.

It also highlighted the difficulties involved in creating suitable low-sodium formulations which still retain a hearty flavour. Euromonitor International considers the future direction of better-for-you (BFY) reduced-salt foods and what it will mean for the sodium chloride market and its possible alternatives.

Salt stagnates as BFY reduced-salt category grows

By 2015, the BFY reduced-salt food category is set to reach value sales of US$5 billion globally. As more public and private sector salt reduction initiatives are pushed through and consumers seek healthy, low-salt food options, the global reduced-salt foods category is anticipated to grow by 1% in value terms between 2010 and 2015.

As a consequence, the global market for sodium chloride within packaged food is not expected to see any growth in volume terms over the same period. Unsurprisingly, this will allow for a range of salt alternatives to come to the fore.

A ‘cocktail’ of ingredients the best way forward?

Salt’s versatility (as a preservative, texturising agent and taste enhancer) explains its long time importance within food but also the difficulty in finding a single suitable substitute. To further complicate matters, salt replacement levels can vary greatly depending on application, ranging from as little as 15% to as much as 50%.

In some cases, it is possible to reduce sodium content by stealth by up to 15% without significantly altering taste. In fact, one major player has already adopted this approach, incrementally reducing its salt content over the last 10 years but without any marketing fanfare.

Otherwise, there is also the option to incorporate a sodium replacer or sodium enhancer to obtain optimal taste levels. Potassium chloride, a popular salt replacer, is one such option which has increased its presence in the market.

However, because of its bitter aftertaste, it cannot function as a single substitute. Formulations also need to incorporate sodium enhancers to mask this taste. Consequently, more flavours are being incorporated into packaged food, not just to add a unique taste but to also allow for sodium reduction. Not surprisingly, this has given a boost to the food/beverage flavours market, which will reach 1.3 million tonnes in 2015.

To stay ahead of the game, ingredients players should offer a salt reduction ‘toolbox’ containing a mix of replacers, enhancers and aromas which would suit a range of product applications.