Food manufacturers will be unable to remove much more salt from their products unless consumer tastes catch up.
“We are getting to a flat point in the improvement curve,” said Food and Drink Federation president Gavin Neath. “We can’t go further than consumers in this. They need to be weaned off.”
Responding to a question by The Grocer, Neath said he could not comment on the overall effect on sales of reformulated foods, although any cut in ingredients such as salt hit margins as alternatives had to be found.
But he said some companies such as Heinz, which has embarked on an aggressive reduction programme, have “perhaps taken a risk but been very bold”. Salt reductions in products made by Unilever UK, of which Neath is chairman, have “allowed other tastes to come through,” he said.
Neath added that, although there was a lot industry could and wanted to do, in the end the consumer had to make informed
choices. “It would be a waste of time to go to zero grams of salt and then to find out that the consumer stops buying the product and goes for higher salt, imported food. That is why we would like to see this issue looked at across the EU,” he said.
He added that the industry would like to see more progress on a campaign of public education with government and said many manufacturers had committed to helping put money up for this. “We think knowledge is still a gap,” he said.
Such a campaign could see digital viewers pressing a button to get more nutritional information or on-pack messages.
FDF director general Melanie Leech stressed that any campaign should be about a balanced diet and lifestyle.
n By the end of this year 36% of products - worth £7.4bn - will have less salt compared to 2004; 15% (£2.2bn) will have less fat; 10% (£1.4bn) will have less sugar.
n 23% of products - worth £2.4bn - are already lower salt variants
n 23% (£4.4bn) are lower fat variants
n 32% (£4.3bn) are lower sugar variants
n 56% (£13bn) are offered in more than one size. Nearly three-quarters of these include a sharing/family pack/mini version for increased choice
n £33bn of products will have full nutrition information on pack by the end of 2006
n Almost two-thirds - worth £15bn - will have salt equivalence information and a similar amount will provide Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) on their packs as a ready reckoner for consumers
n 52% of respondents’ products - worth £12.9bn - include a healthy eating/ lifestyle message on pack
n 84% promote healthy eating/ lifestyle messages through off pack formats, eg company websites, leaflets, corporate publications, consumer information, advertorials and sponsorship
n 80% run, or plan to run, workplace schemes promoting healthy lifestyles