Products that claim low/no/reduced sodium have seen a global decline in recent years despite increased awareness of the health risks associated with high levels of sodium in consumers’ diets and governments pledging to reduce salt levels in food.
According to new findings from Mintel, launching new products with a low/no/reduced sodium tag declined 5 percent throughout 2010 and 2011, with the claim appearing on just 2 percent of total food launches in 2011.
“A large percentage of the global food industry remains wary of the commercial impacts of reducing salt in their products. This anxiety is well-founded, with many products positioned as low sodium forced off the shelves prematurely in recent years due to poor sales,” said Chris Brockman, global food and drink analyst at Mintel. “Manufacturers struggled to find workable salt substitutes, forcing many to rapidly pull them from the market. Efforts are being made to offer consumers alternatives to sodium. However, existing salt replacements have not caught the imagination of consumers.”
According to Mintel's Global New Products Database (GNPD), Europe remains the most active region in terms of product innovation, covering 35 percent in 2010 and 2011 of new product launches carrying low/no/reduced sodium claims. North America follows with 26 percent share of the global market in 2011 as opposed to 32 percent in 2010.
In Europe, 3 percent of new food products introduced in 2011 in the UK carried a low/no reduced sodium claim, a higher percentage than other key European markets with the exception of Netherlands, where 9 percent of all new products had the same claim. For France the figure stood at 2 percent in 2011; for Spain, 1.4 percent. Italy and Germany were somewhat lower, at just 1 percent each.
Some 54 percent of U.S. consumers say they limit their use of packaged foods because of high sodium levels, with 53 percent concerned about the amount of salt in their diets. Despite this trend, consumers won’t give up salt easily, with 60 percent of U.S. restaurant diners typically ordering what they want instead of what’s healthy. Additionally, 46 percent of U.S. consumers think that products flavored with a non-sodium or salt alternative don’t taste as good as their traditional counterparts.
“Brands will need to dispel widely held perceptions about low-sodium or salt alternatives to be successful,” added Brockman. “Many food brands are already introducing step-by-step salt reduction programs that gradually reduce the salt content of their products, a strategy often called ‘stealth health,’ as the incremental removal of sodium can be carried out over a period of time to help the consumer to become accustomed to the changed flavor profile.”
These findings also tie in to the Mintel Inspire trend "Fauxthenticity," which explores how food alternatives can become preferable to real versions because they are variously healthier, greener or more affordable.
Mintel is a leading global supplier of consumer, product and media intelligence.