Retailers and manufacturers admitted this week that they had hit a brick wall in some areas and were unable to remove any more salt from certain products without compromising flavour, shelf life or even food safety.
And so in a bid to prove its commitment to meet targets to reduce the levels of salt in our diets by the end of next year they are looking to the scientific and academic communities to help identify new ways to reduce salt levels.
The British Retail Consortium and the Food & Drink Federation have jointly launched a tender process which is aimed at food research facilities and universities throughout Europe, in an effort to identify the largest possible number of potential solutions. The problem areas identified include meat and meat snacks with a particular focus on bacon and sausages cheese, cakes and canned fish.
Tenders will have to be submitted by 23 September and the final projects are to be completed by March. Each successful tender will receive a budget of £18,000. As well as coming up with potential solutions, the scientists are being asked to consider the impact of their recommendations on shelf life, product safety, taste and consumer acceptability, as well as their cost implications.
The BRC's deputy food director, Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, told The Grocer that the industry was "looking for innovative ways to push this issue forward, particularly in areas where it had now got pretty stuck". She said that opening up the process to independent research was the best approach.
However, she cautioned that technical solutions would not necessarily be found and even if they were, it may not be possible for them to be implemented in time to make a significant difference to people's diets by the end of 2012.
"Our members have made fantastic progress reducing the levels of salt in food in recent years. In some cases, we've come as far as we can without help from science," she said. "The fact that retailers are choosing to spend their own money looking for solutions shows how seriously they take their commitment to public health."
The industry has been stripping out salt from food products since 2008 following consultation with the Food Standards Agency. The vast majority of targets originally set for 2010 were met, but these were then revised for 2012 as part of the government's Responsibility Deal on public health which was launched in March.
Under the deal, the industry pledged to work towards reducing the level of salt in people's daily diets by 1g.
- meat, especially sliced meats, cured meats, bacon, sausages, burgers and meat pies
- bread, especially speciality and morning goods
- cheese, particularly soft cheeses and Cheddar
- extruded and pelleted snacks
- cakes, pastries and fruit pies
- pesto and other thick sauces
- canned fish