Do consumers want less salt in their food?

Low-salt options and consumer preference

According to a recent Grocer article, “salt levels in out-of-home children’s meals have got worse”. The study, conducted by Action on Salt, found that 37% of meals contained at least 2g of salt per portion, which is the maximum recommended daily allowance (RDA) for one-to-three year olds.

The OOH (out-of-home) sector has been pressured by the government to reformulate and reduce salt levels in their meals by Easter. The government are also pressuring supermarkets and suppliers to consider reformulation.

The RDA of salt for adults is 6g, or one teaspoon. The British Heart Foundation state that the average adult in the UK consumes 8g of salt per day. Too much salt can affect the heart, arteries, kidneys, and brain. Many foods are high in salt from the way they are prepared, including bacon, cheese, ham, salami, olives, salt fish, salted nuts, anchovies, soy sauce, and many others.

The effects of salt on the body

Cutting out salt altogether isn’t the answer, as the body uses sodium for nerve transmissions, muscle contractions, and balancing bodily fluids in conjunction with potassium.

Eating too much salt raises blood pressure and increases the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. It can damage the arteries leading to the heart. This means the amount of blood reaching the heart may be reduced, causing a condition called angina. The heart doesn’t work as well because it isn’t getting enough oxygen and nutrients. Over time, if you continue to eat more salt than is recommended, the arteries may burst or become totally clogged. This could eventually lead to a heart attack.

The kidneys filter your blood to remove unwanted fluid. Your kidneys uses a balance of potassium and sodium to draw water across a wall of cells from the bloodstream. Eating salt increases the sodium in the bloodstream and ruins this balance, so the kidneys are less effective. The extra fluid raises blood pressure and causes extra strain on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys. This strain can lead to kidney disease and kidney failure. With ineffective kidneys, toxins will start to build up in the body.

If the arteries leading to the brain are damaged, it can lead to dementia, as the amount of blood reaching the brain is reduced. The brain won’t receive enough oxygen or nutrients. If the brain continues to be deficient of oxygen or nutrients, it can lead to a stroke. In older people, high amounts of sodium can impair cognitive function.

Because salt retains water, too much can cause swelling of the hand, feet, and knees. This is known as oedema. Processed foods that are high in salt can raise the risk of stomach cancer.

What our consumers think

We ran a split test with our consumer community to see if they would be more inclined to purchase a low-salt option over the alternative:

The results show that, for certain products, salt is actually a positive contributing factor towards purchase intent. In consumers’ minds, “less salt” could be equivalent to “less tasty”. However, while unsalted options might not command the majority of market share, they still represent a significant portion, and one that food producers should be able to serve.

When it comes to acknowledging the health risks of excess salt, 49% of consumers say they are actively trying to reduce their salt intake. To test how deep this commitment is, we ran split tests on two ready meals, with option A as the regular ready meal and option B described as a “reduced salt” option.

The result is that both options are within the margin of error. This would indicate that there isn’t a large upside for food producers to labelling products as lower in salt. Conversely, however, the PR benefits of cutting salt levels in ready meals coupled with no reduction in purchase intent could offer a win-win to companies looking to offer healthier options without hurting sales.

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