The UK food industry has been focusing on improving the nutritional value of its wares, and the reduction of salt, used as a preservative and flavour enhancer, has been one of its key targets. Too much salt has been linked to an increased risk of hypertension, which can be a trigger for cardiovascular events such as stroke.
A report published last week by the Department of Health called Parterships for Better Health included a case study on the collaboration between the Food Standards Agency and the Food and Drink Federation on reducing salt intake in the UK.
The FSA is leading the government aim to reduce salt intake by adults to 6g per day by 2019. "But any drive to reduce salt intake must include a concerted effort on the part of food manufactureres to modify the ingredients of their products," said the report.
An industry-led initiative called Project Nepture set out to reduce salt levels in soups and cooking sauces by 30 per cent over a three year period. The extended period, which came to a close in 2005, was seen as necessary so that consumers would not notice a sudden change in flavour.
Moreover, the non-competitive, industry-wide initiate meant that companies did not risk losing their edge, should they be the only one to reformulate to reduce salt while competitors kept a salt-induced flavour.
The success of the project is in the figures. Although they fall short of the 30 per cent target, the salt content in soups was seen to have been reduced by 25 per cent and that of cooking sauces by 29 per cent.
The report called this "an achievement that will make a huge difference to conusmers' salt intake without them even being aware of it."
Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, said:
"We are delighted that DH has highlighted this particular example of how the food industry has worked in partnership with the Government towards a common goal. Manufacturers have done a fantastic job of reformulating their mainstream products and launching alternatives that are lower in salt, fat or sugar and it's great that the Government has recognised this."
FDF claims that its latest survey shows that members have reformulated £7.4bn worth of products to have lower levels of salt compared to the year before, while £2.4bn worth of products have been launched with lower salt variants.
Moreover the trend towards reduced salt has filtered down the supply chain, spurring ingredient companies to develop salt alternatives that can not only compensate for the taste issue but also keep costs down.
Salt replacers are typically considerably more expensive than salt. One company that has been striving to present a realistic alternative is Ungerer, which said last month that it has bundling its salt-reduction technology in with a new range of savoury flavours based on UnSal20 salt enhancer system.
This means that the salt reduction capability is rolled in with the flavour itself. "If you can afford flavours, you can afford this," said senior flavourist Nick Price.
However campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), while applauding the UK for leading the way on salt reduction, has said that it wants more to be done.
In May CASH hit out at soup manufacturer after a survey found that almost 50 per cent of commercial soups do not meet targets for salt levels.
It recently urged consumers to boycott foods that still contain large and unnecessary amounts of added salt, saying that shoppers should not to buy products that contain either more than 1.25g of salt (0.5g of sodium) per 100g or more than 2.4g of salt per serving, and hopes that this will force manufacturers to take action and reformulate excessively salty foods.