CASH conducted the survey nine months before national salt reduction targets are due to be met.
It selected products from various categories including baked beans, meat and meat alternatives, biscuits and cereals, cakes and pastries, ready meals, cheese, cook-in and pasta sauces and soups.
But of the 28 categories tested, only ‘bread rolls’ has so far met the 2017 maximum – but not average – salt targets.
Baxter’s Chef Selections Cullen Skink, for instance, had more than one and a half times the target for soup (1.1 g salt/100 g) while German hard discounter Aldi’s Fishmonger piri piri smoked mackerel fillets contained 3.8 g salt per serving, putting it at four times more salt per 100 g than the maximum salt reduction target for fish-based meals.
According to the UK’s dietary guidelines, adults should eat no more than 6 g of salt a day, which is around one teaspoon.
The survey threw up some surprising results. A marshmallow hot chocolate drink made by confectionery giant Mars under the Galaxy brand was 16 times over its category target, making it saltier than seawater or a bag of salted crisps.
There were also significant differences in the salt content within the same category, such as a 97% difference between two granola bars made by Kellogg (1.13 g per 100 g) and one by Jordans (0.03 g per 100 g portion).
“The shopping basket analysis reaffirms the public health goal of consuming no more than 6 g salt per person per day is achievable, yet manufacturers are dragging their heels,” said CASH.
Consumers empowered by FoodSwitch app
CASH gathered the data on salt levels using FoodSwitch, a free smartphone app whose database contains nutrition information for over 100,000 packaged food and drinks sold across major UK supermarkets. Consumers can scan the barcode of a product and instantly receive ‘traffic light’ colour-coded nutritional information. The app then recommends similar, yet healthier, alternatives and users can filter their results for different nutrients, such as salt, sugar or saturated fat.
Katharine Jenner, registered nutritionist and CASH campaign director, who presented the FoodSwitch app to attendees at this year’s FoodVision, said the results were alarming.
“We are shocked to see that many food manufacturers and retailers are still failing to meet the salt reduction targets, despite having had years to work towards them.
“We congratulate the other, more responsible manufacturers that have successfully achieved them, or are on track to meet them by the
end of the year – which shows it is possible. With only nine months to go, action must be taken now.”
FDF: We need funding for pre-competitive research
But Tim Rycroft, director of corporate affairs at the UK industry lobby, Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said food producers have invested heavily to adapt their recipes to cut salt, pointing to Kantar World Panel data which showed an 8% reduction when comparing levels over a one-year period in 2011 and 2015.
“As the work has progressed, many companies are finding reductions harder to achieve without compromising product safety or jeopardising taste, texture or shelf-life. Increased funding for pre-competitive research would help companies overcome shared barriers to further salt reductions.
“In addition to salt, UK food and drink producers continue to look for and develop opportunities to reduce calories, sugars and fats, while boosting fibre and micronutrients to contribute to an overall holistic approach to public health. Most ingredients in a food perform a wide range of functions, and go well beyond adding flavour, such as providing texture or shelf-life.”
Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of CASH called for mandatory reduction targets to be set, slamming the government's failure at ensuring manufacturers stick to the voluntary targets as "a national scandal".
Interested in healthy reformulation? Graham MacGregor will take part in FoodNavigator's free, online roundtable discussion on the global obesity crisis and the importance of sugar reduction. To sign up or simply to learn more, click here.