The link between salt consumption and cardiovascular disease has been well-publicized for many years, leading to a string of public health initiatives designed to curb the public’s intake.
It can feel like prepared food manufacturers are constantly being asked to reduce the salt (as well as the sugar, fat and calories) found in their products. This brings about the huge challenge of continuously fine-tuning recipes to meet new targets, while maintaining the flavor consumers expect and keeping products cost-effective.
With a host of new salt reduction targets having been set over recent years, we take a look at what exactly these requirements entail and whether the industry is on track to achieve them. We also explore some of the strategies you can use to reduce your products’ salt content in the least disruptive way possible.
According to the CDC, over 70% of the salt consumed by Americans comes from eating processed foods at home or eating at restaurants - with only a small percentage accounted for by salt added in the cooking process at home. In Europe, this figure stands at over two thirds of salt consumed. This is why the prepared food industry has consistently been such a big target for regulators.
The FDA recommends that adults limit their salt intake to 2,300 mg per day (around one teaspoon’s worth). However, the average salt intake of an American adult is in fact nearly 50% higher than this, at 3,400 mg. In 2016, the FDA set out their latest round of guidance on reducing the salt content in prepared and processed foods. These recommendations were presented in extremely granular detail, with short-term (2 year) and long-term (10 year) targets set out. The guidance identified 16 overarching food categories and 150 subcategories to be given their own reduction targets.
Each subcategory was given its own specific targets. For instance, pretzel manufacturers were given the target of cutting salt content by around 16% from the 2010 baseline in the short term and 38% in the longer term. Meanwhile, companies making dry mix mashed potatoes were required to cut salt by only 10% in the short term and 28% in the longer term.
In the UK, new salt targets were also implemented in 2020. However, the viability of the recommendations has come under considerable scrutiny, with food companies questioning whether the targets are at all realistic. Such skepticism is unsurprising given most of the industry failed to achieve the last set of targets set by the UK government in 2017.
So, with tough targets mounting up, what can your food manufacturing operation do to tackle this growing challenge?
While salt reduction targets are well-defined for most businesses in the prepared food sector, achieving them is another matter entirely. Your business will need to juggle a whole range of considerations when you remove salt from your products including retaining existing taste and flavor profiles, refining production processes and keeping products profitable.
Your organization will essentially be faced with two choices—removing the required amount of salt entirely from your products, or replacing it with equivalents. However, both strategies have their problems. Removing the salt entirely is the favored option of most government health bodies, as they hope the public will slowly become accustomed to less salty foods. But with reduction targets as high as 40%, there is a fear that these changes will not be gradual enough. Removing salt without introducing replacements also presents a number of technical headaches.
Sodium replacers are seemingly a more attractive alternative. The most common of these are potassium-based, like potassium chloride. As well as offering a similar flavor to salt, potassium is also thought to lower blood pressure—essentially performing the exact reverse function of salt, which is known to raise blood pressure. However, in high quantities, potassium chloride can give off metallic and bitter flavors—presenting businesses like yours with the challenge of masking or offsetting them.
As salt reduction targets become more ambitious, companies in the prepared food industry will need to decide on the solutions that work best for them. In many cases, this will require unique approaches to be taken on a product-by-product basis when it comes to reformulating recipes. This type of trial and error can be a costly exercise—both in terms of time and money.
However, with integrated software solutions like enterprise resource planning (ERP), you’re in a much stronger position to make the necessary reductions quicker and more effectively. Our solution—Aptean Food & Beverage ERP—comes complete with features to help you compare recipes quickly and unlock the best recipes available in line with salt reduction targets.
Our software also makes it much easier to launch new products—especially useful if your business wants to trial reduced-salt versions of established favorites, as well as for introducing products that satisfy dietary requirements such as gluten-free and vegetarian.
And with government regulations and consumers’ dietary requirements continuing to shift quickly, it's important you choose the right ERP to keep your business responsive in the face of these evolving trends.
To learn more about how Aptean Food & Beverage ERP can help your food business, get in touch with our team today!